Report: Front Street fire cause 'undetermined'

The results of a nearly two-month investigation into the fire that destroyed homes and businesses in Georgetown have found that the cause of the fire could not be determined.

"The fire was investigated by the S.C. Law Enforcement Division. The SLED investigation found no signs or evidence of an intentionally committed act. All accidental causes for the fire could not be eliminated therefore the exact cause of the fire is undetermined," according to the report from the State Law Enforcement Division.

Seven of the buildings sustained severe damage: Goudelock & Company, Limpin' Janes, Boardwalk Market, Buzz's Roost, Zest Restaurant, Doodlebugs, and the Harborwalk Bookstore. Coastal Florist sustained minimal damage.

The report says the point of origin was on the deck behind Limpin' Janes.

"As a result of the fire, the deck either was totally destroyed or fell into the water, and by the time investigators were able to access the site, there had been a couple of tides, so it was very unlikely that we would be able to come up with any significant evidence to help with the investigation," Georgetown Mayor Jack Scoville said.

The report adds that eye witness Georgetown City Councilman Paige Sawyer called in the fire when he saw flames coming from the porch of Limpin' Janes and that he walked onto the deck and saw "what appeared to have been a fifty-five gallon trash bag burning on the deck behind the bar area."

The owner of Limpin' Jane's indicated that he and some friends had been doing some table refinishing the day before the fire using linseed oil.

The agent on scene asked the owner where he kept the trash can, and he indicated he kept the trash can in the same location Sawyer saw the fire, the report added.

The report says the rags and linseed oil used to refinish the tables "cannot be eliminated as a cause of the fire" because rags soaked with linseed oil, stored in a pile, are considered a fire hazard. This is because they provide a large surface area for oxidation of oil and the oxidation of linseed oil is an exothermic reaction, which accelerates as the temperature of the rags increases.

The report goes on to say that combined with the hot temperature, the rags could spontaneously combust.

The report states that the linseed oil soaked rags that were placed in a bag and then placed into the trash can "make conditions favorable to spontaneous combustion to occur and a slow progressing fire."

However, the exact cause after reviewing all the information is undetermined.

Agents also reviewed video from the bank ATM across the street and did not observe anything unusual around the time prior to the discovery of the fire.

There were seven apartments above those buildings, housing between 10 and 13 people. Six were being lived in, the seventh was used as storage facility.

John Walters was one of those people whose home was destroyed in the fire.

"I'm glad to hear there was no one at fault. I'm glad to hear that no one did this with hate in their heart," Walters said.

"This is the end of the beginning, and hopefully within a couple of years, we'll be where we need to be," Mayor Scoville said.