Hilton Head condos to be rebuilt after fire investigation

rlurye@islandpacket.comJanuary 12, 2014 

FILE: Hilton Head Island firefighters assess the damage from a fire at Wyndemere Villas in December. Residents hope to learn this month the cause of the fire, which destroyed at least six condominiums.

DELAYNA EARLEY — Staff photo Buy Photo

Wyndemere Villas residents hope to learn this month the cause of the fire that destroyed at least six condominiums, a necessary step before the Hilton Head Island complex can rebuild.

A fire Dec. 18 at 50 Yacht Cove Drive burned through the night, initially displacing at least 14 families. All 18 units of Building 300 have been condemned, but demolition is stalled until insurance agencies and the fire investigator agree on the source of the blaze, Wyndemere board president Marc LaCoste said.

Joheida Fister, fire marshal for the Town of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division, said an insurance agency investigator will try to finish assessing the building Friday. The fire might have started outdoors on a lower floor, Fister has said.

LaCoste also hopes to arrange a meeting between the main fire investigator and other claims adjusters this month, but no date has been set.

"We're trying to push for it as soon as possible," he said.

Belfor, a property-restoration company, has started to design the new condominiums, which must be approved by Wyndemere's board and the town.

The Wyndemere board could consider improvements designed to prevent similar incidents, LaCoste said, but it first must know the cause of the fire.

"We can't intelligently make recommendations to change anything until then," he said.

The board does not know how much of the building is salvagable, but every unit will probably be "stripped to its shell" for the installation of new plumbing and electrical wiring, said board member Brad Hurt, who lived in the burned building. Construction would last about six months, according to the community's website.

Hurt, 39, whose family is moving to an apartment in Bluffton at the end of the month, said he feels fortunate to have lost only a few rooms containing his belongings. No injuries were reported in the fire, though one family's cat died, he said.

"It's amazing to lose just one pet in a fire of that magnitude," Hurt said. "You can't understand it unless you see it."

When the fire was spreading shortly after 8:30 p.m., Hurt and a friend were among those knocking on neighbors' doors, pulling residents from their homes and fighting back the flames with a fire extinguisher.

"It was like throwing a cup of water in a brush fire," he said.

Hurt's friend kicked down the door to one locked unit, but the two men had to turn back because the rooms were so thick with smoke. The resident of that condo was the only person unaccounted for later that night, until the man suddenly arrived at the scene in his car.

"I thought he was dead," Hurt said. "I've never been so happy to see someone I don't really know."

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

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