Half a dozen Building Surplus and Salvage employees gathered at what was left of the Beech Island business Sunday, one day after a fire destroyed two of its buildings and heavily damaged another.
The blaze, at 5080 Jefferson Davis Highway, started at about 4:30 a.m. Saturday and was mainly under control by the evening, according to officials.
"It's a sad, sad loss," owner Tommy Mixon said after seeing the fire scene again Sunday afternoon. "Everything on the first level was gone. There's not a dollar's worth of anything left."
Building Surplus and Salvage, which has been open since 1977, sells lumber, paint and other materials to residential and commercial customers.
Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt said Sunday that firefighters were still working to cool off debris in some of the hot spots in hopes that arson investigators will be able to examine the scene today.
"It was so heavy a fire load and such an intense fire that it's just not safe right now," Sheriff Hunt said. "We're still continuing to put water and foam on different areas."
On Sunday, the 20,000-square-foot property, which sits behind a locked chain-link fence, looked like a war zone with blackened plywood and charred ash. Pockets of smoke clouds hung in the air overhead, and some ruins in the center of the space were still in flames.
To the left side of the property, three buildings used mainly for storage were the only structures still standing.
The cause of the fire is unknown, but authorities have ruled the fire suspicious, according to Lt. Michael Frank, the spokesman for the Aiken County Sheriff's Office. Investigators are photographing and drawing diagrams of the burned buildings, he said.
Jacob Council reported the fire early Saturday. The Aiken-based UPS driver said he knew something was wrong as he drove his usual work route down the Old Aiken Road.
"I saw smoke, got out of the car and saw flames," he said. "When I noticed the building's garage doors expanding, I called 911."
He told onlookers to move away from the building to a safer area.
"You could feel the heat, and I knew there were propane tanks there," said the North Augustan, who said he has been a customer at the business.
"This is a loss for our area. It's sad," Mr. Council said.
Clint Jackson, who lives on Todd Avenue right behind the Building Surplus and Salvage complex, said that when the fire started he heard loud explosions, which turned out to be 5-gallon propane tanks.
"There were 1,000-pound propane tanks nearby, and we were told if they had gone off it would have taken out the whole block," he said. "We're just kind of scared."
Late Saturday night, Mr. Jackson said the fire started up again, so a firefighter was assigned to watch over the area to ensure that the damage did not worsen.
"We finally got a little sleep," he said.
Lenola Cooks, who has lived on Todd Avenue for seven years, said her son woke her up when he heard the roar of the fire a little before 5 a.m. Saturday, and she ran to the front porch to find out what was going on.
"I saw a wall of fire. Oh God, it scared me so," she said. "I could feel the heat ... It was just unbelievable."
Ms. Cooks said she stood outside of her home for hours until sheriff's officers said it was OK to come back inside.
Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call the sheriff's office at (800) 922-9709.
Staff writer Timothy Cox contributed to this report.
Reach Dena Levitz at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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