Major fire destroys Hardeeville businesses, church

astice@islandpacket.comDecember 21, 2011 

A fire that officials called suspicious gutted four businesses and a church in a Hardeeville strip mall on U.S. 17 early today.

Firefighters from six departments -- Hardeeville, Levy, Bluffton, Pooler, Ridgeland and Jasper County -- battled the blaze for hours, beginning at about 3 a.m.

The ruins were still smoldering Wednesday afternoon as the S.C. Law Enforcement Division arson-investigation unit surveyed the scene.

A liquor store with a mini-mart, two bars and a Hispanic Seventh Day Adventist Church were destroyed.

Hardeeville Fire Chief Dan Morgan said evidence on the scene led firefighters to believe the fire might have been intentionally set.

Investigators believe the blaze started in the rear of the Mini Bar, said Chief Deputy Roy Hughes with the Jasper County Sheriff's Office.

It spread quickly because the building that housed the businesses was older and lacked sprinklers, Morgan said.

American Red Cross volunteers passed out water and snacks to firefighters at the scene on Wednesday morning.

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