Six days after an early morning fire that destroyed the Dead Dog Saloon in Murrells Inlet, owner Charlie Campbell is saying they hope to be open by July 1st.
"We are on a fast track. We've had such an outpouring of love from the community, I feel a personal obligation to get this place open as fast as we can," Campbell says.
The fire last Wednesday was ruled accidental, according to Murrells Inlet/Garden City Fire Chief Norman Knight.
Knight said investigators can't definitively say what started it, but nothing indicates that the fire was intentionally set. Knight noted that the fire is believed to have started on the restaurant's back deck, where there were open fire pits and patrons smoking Tuesday night during the Marsh Walk Marshi Gras celebration.
Campbell says it's hard to tell exactly what could have caused the fire, but that his insurer ruled it as a cigarette in a trash can near a large live oak on the back deck.
The oak at this point, Campbell says, looks like it won't be able to be saved and will have to be uprooted. The plan is to make part of the trunk into artwork that will hang in the new Dead Dog Saloon and plant a new tree.
"There was a hammock that hung from that oak, and it was the best seat in the house," Campbell said as he gave NewsChannel 15 and exclusive TV interview and tour of the grounds.
The heaviest damage was on the rear deck overlooking the Marsh Walk, which was not damaged. Wednesday, crews from A&I Restoration and employees from Dead Dog pulled debris, pulled up posts, and bulldozed parts of the structure. Many of them were so covered in ash, they looked like coal miners.
"This takes a good 30 minutes to wash off, and then I'm still not completely clean," said Dead Dog General Manager Peter Haentjens.
In addition to the tree, the entire back deck, and the majority of the structure will go. The kitchen equipment was salvaged and cleaned and will remain in storage until reopening.
Fire crews responded to the restaurant at 4:15 the morning of February 22 to find the building engulfed in flames. Firefighters were able to contain the flames, but the fire destroyed 70 percent of the restaurant on Highway 17 Business, according to Knight.
Campbell says he and his wife heard about the fire when they got a call from their son John, about the alarm going off at Dead Dog.
"This usually isn't a big deal, a bird can set an alarm off," he said. He went on to explain there are 12 zones where an alarm could go off. When their son told them all 12 zones were going off, Charlie headed to the restaurant. That's when he heard his wife screaming.
"As a parent, you think the worst. I was thinking he was accosted by a burglar, or had a gun to his head. When my wife told me the building was on fire, I was relieved. My son's fine. And it was a building. And that's what matters," Campbell said.
Campbell, who's owned the restaurant for 10 years, said when he got to the scene of the fire, he saw flames "60, 80 feet high." He says it was then "we knew we were gonna lose it."
The restaurant is known for its annual 9/11 fundraising event. Campbell says if Dead Dog isn't open on July first, it will definitely be open for another 9/11 fundraiser in September.
"A place like the Dead Dog. We're more than just a bar and restaurant. This place lives and breathes," Campbell says.