UPDATE: Charleston Fire Marshal Mike Julazadeh sent out the following update at about 4:30 p.m.:
Both lanes of East Bay were opened to vehicular traffic at approximately 4:20 PM. CFD units will remain on scene for an undetermined period of time to monitor for “hot spots” in the fire debris. The fire investigation has been suspended due to safety and structural concerns with the building. Fire Investigators will work with the insurance company to determine if the investigation can continue after elements of the building can be stabilized. The sidewalk and parking area in front of the building will remain closed to maintain a safe area.
No injuries have been reported from a fire that ravaged the pink building at 213 East Bay St. last night, causing damage to businesses including Light, Squeeze, the Brick, and Speakeasy.
Firefighters from the Charleston, North Charleston, James Island, and Saint Andrews fire departments arrived at the building around 1 a.m. and found heavy smoke coming out of the building. According to Charleston Fire Marshal Mike Julazadeh, firefighters entered the building and were initially able to get to the second floor, but as the fire progressed, they were forced to evacuate the building and move to a defensive operation, hosing down the structure from the street level and from the roof of an adjacent building. The fire eventually reached the roof of the building, which collapsed into the second floor. Firefighters were able to contain the fire and keep it from spreading to the adjacent Maritime Building and apartments, although some windows were broken in the Maritime Building and smoke did get inside.
For the rapid response and containment of the fire, Julazadeh credits an automatic aid agreement signed by five local fire departments in July 2012. He says the building at 213 East Bay St. was not equipped with fire sprinklers or alarms, and the fire department found out about the fire after someone at Squeeze made a 911 call. A smoke detector did eventually go off in the adjacent Maritime Building, but it was about an hour after the 911 call.
“Most of the first floor area, what you’re looking at is a lot of water saturation,” Julazadeh says. “You still have water pouring in from the ceiling, and the guys are still hitting hot spots from the adjacent roofline of the adjacent buildings … There’s little fire damage on the first floor of the building. There’s some smoke damage, but it’s primarily water damage.”
Marc Gaskins, a bartender at Squeeze, was working last night when the fire broke out. “Around 1 o’clock, I heard a loud thud from upstairs,” Gaskins says. “Within seconds, I could smell something burning. I thought it was a cigarette container out front, walked to the kitchen just to make sure it wasn’t our building, and when I turned around, our AC vents kicked in, and smoke was just coming out full steam out of the air conditioning vents. Within 30 seconds, the bar was completely full of smoke. Same with the Brick. When I stepped in the street, they were running out.”
The fire couldn’t have come at a worse time for the downtown bars. Gaskins, whose brother Clint owns Squeeze, says the day of the Cooper River Bridge Run is the biggest sales date of the year for many of the bars. The race, which takes place this Saturday, will end downtown.
The block of East Bay Street between South Market and Cumberland streets has been closed off to foot and vehicle traffic while officials wait on an engineer to assess the structural integrity of the building’s facade. Residents of the adjacent apartments and office workers from the Maritime Building have been evacuated. Firefighters escorted some office workers inside to gather belongings.