CHATHAM COUNTY, Ga. - Rose Newman cried next to her husband, Paul, Thursday as they watched firefighters battle a blaze in their Factors' Walk shop in downtown Savannah's historic district.
Inside the building, built in 1854, was Mrs. Newman's collection of dolls, antique lamps and vases, musical instruments - and about half a dozen other businesses.
"I feel helpless for my wife; that's her heart and soul," said Mr. Newman. His wife added, "It feels like you're dying."
No one was hurt, but several businesses in part of the old Cotton Exchange suffered damage. The incident created a spectacle in the Historic District - attracting a large crowd of onlookers and clogging traffic on Bay Street. The cause is under investigation.
The blaze started about 5 p.m atop the three-level building in an attic directly above Mrs. Newman. She was ringing up a customer at her store, Southern Ladies Antiques and Collectibles. She smelled smoke, andthe shop's alarms sounded.
Mrs. Newman ran toward the attic before a customer stopped her and made her leave.
"I looked overhead, and it was orange flames," Mrs. Newman said.
A couple visiting from Indiana called 911, then ran to tell people to get out. Shopkeepers and customers from neighboring antique stores, Cherished Moments and Melonies, scrambled out of the building - followed by people from other businesses.
Once outside around Salzburger Memorial, they comforted each other, called loved ones and repeated "It could be much worse."
Savannah firefighters worked from engines on Bay and River streets to confine the blaze to the attic above Mrs. Newman's antique store. Firewalls helped keep flames from spreading.
The tugboat Gen. Oglethorpe was poised in the Savannah River waiting for an order - which never came - to spray water on the building.
Firefighters said the roughly half-dozen businesses in the building suffered smoke and water damage. Such yellow heart-pine buildings burn fast and hot, said Savannah fire spokeswoman Darlene Tuccillo. It took two pumpers, each putting out between 1,000 to 1,500 gallons per minute, to douse the flames.
"This shop is my life," Mrs. Newman said. "I guess we'll rebuild."