The Public Square blaze: Firefighters lost a building, saved a block

Seen through the rear window of the gutted building, the courthouse is visible across the street. PHOTO BY BOBBY BRYANT

By Bobby Bryant, Editor

When Darlington Fire Chief Pat Cavanaugh first saw the blaze consuming a building on the Public Square the night of July 16, his main thought was: We cannot let this spread through the rest of the block. That didn’t happen. The fire didn’t spread beyond the 1890s brick building where it started, destroying a jewelry shop and an antiques store, but sparing the buildings on either side, including Edward Jones Co., Darlington Office Supply and the former Wells Fargo building. “We dodged a bullet, yeah,” Cavanaugh says. “It was nerve-wracking. It was our town, our Square. It was a nerve-wracking deal to me.” In Cavanaugh’s judgment, here are the key factors that saved the rest of the block: 1. The fire was called in immediately, about 10:30 p.m., reportedly by customers and employees at Chianti’s Wings and Things. If the fire had broken out at, say, 3 a.m., it might have burned a long time before being reported. 2. The fire walls between the buildings were strong. “The fire walls helped,” Cavanaugh said. 3. Firefighters made a fast “attack” on the burning building, holding back the flames. 4. The Darlington County Sheriff’s Office quickly loaned out a drone that could zoom around and spot problems by video. 5. Firefighters used “the Tower,” a truck carrying a 95-foot-assembly designed to put huge amounts of water on high-up places. 6. Counting Darlington firefighters – pretty much the whole department was there in minutes – firefighters from nearby departments and police, probably 40 people at one point were involved in attacking the blaze, the chief said. “Those guys didn’t want to stop.” Even citizens helped move fire hoses and supplied firefighters with drinks. “It was an impressive fire,” summed up city spokeswoman Lisa Chalian-Rock. “It looked bad. It was all hands on deck. … It definitely could have been a lot worse.” Cavanaugh said he left the scene about 7:30 a.m., about nine hours after the fire was called in. “We were there all night,” he said. “The good Lord was smiling down at us,” he said. “We were preparing for the worst.” Cavanaugh could not provide a damage estimate, and the cause of the fire was being investigated by the State Law Enforcement Division. He did not know whether the gutted building that had housed the Jewelers Bench and the antiques shop will have to be torn down; that decision will be made by the city. Rock said that the owners of the Jewelers Bench did not lose everything. Their most valuable jewelry, she said, was stored in a safe, which was left intact. One of the adjoining businesses, Edward Jones Co., was planning to have the office open and operating normally as soon as July 21. An employee said that there was a “thick” smoke smell at first and that phone lines were crippled at first. Darlington Office Supply, next door to the building that burned, had not even lost a full day to the fire, a spokesman said. “We were lucky,” he said, adding that there was no apparent water damage.

Author: Rachel Howell

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