The fire that destroyed the Dead Dog Saloon in Murrells Inlet Wednesday was 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.
"Those will be on our list of possible things that we'll look at for a cause," Knight said.
Fire crews responded to the restaurant at 4:15 Wednesday morning 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.
Investigators are working to determine the cause of the fire. Knight said the heaviest damage was on the rear deck overlooking the Marsh Walk, which was not damaged.
Charlie Campbell, who's owned the restaurant for 10 years, arrived within minutes of getting the call about the fire.
"It was a pretty emotional moment. The flames were through the roof and I'm gonna say they were 60, 80 feet high and we knew we were gonna lose it," Campbell said.
There was a huge crowd at Dead Dog Tuesday night because of the Marsh Walk's annual Marshi-Gras event.
A few of those who had enjoyed dinner and drinks at the restaurant just a few hours before, came back Wednesday morning to a scene of destruction.
"It's certainly shocking, because we were just here," said Jay Anderson of Murrells Inlet. "I know we're getting ready for the season and I know it's gonna be a loss down here."
Dead Dog Saloon has been a huge supporter of firefighters in the area, hosting a fundraiser each year on the anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.
One firefighter told us he'd taken the fire engine to Dead Dog for the 9/11 event for several years, and had raised the ladder to fly the American flag. He never dreamed he'd return to have to put out a fire at the business.
"It does put a little bit of tug on your heart when you have to come to something like this, but we do a job and it had to be done," said Chief Knight.
"We had firemen with tears in their eyes this morning at 4:30," Campbell added.
As for the people who worked at Dead Dog and are now out of work, Campbell said other Marsh Walk area restaurants have offered to hire his staff until the restaurant is back up and running. "I think we're all in this together and they'll be very supportive of us trying to get back on our feet," he said.
NewsChannel 15 will continue to bring you updates here, on CarolinaLive. c om.