Less than 12 hours after Nancy Harris Vista watched firefighters extinguish a blaze that swept through her small Port Royal boutique late Wednesday, the business owner walked among charred wooden panels and stared through an opening the flames had carved out of the building's side.
"Life catches you off guard sometimes," Vista said as her husband carried away boxes of salvageable inventory . "I'm just glad nobody was harmed. It was all just stuff. We can replace that."
Firefighters were called to Nuances at 709 Paris Avenue at about 9:48 p.m. and could see smoke and flames at the front of the small commercial building, according to a city of Beaufort Fire Department news release.
Fire crews from the town of Port Royal, Beaufort and Burton first knocked down the main body of the blaze inside the structure and attic, the release said.
More than 25 responding firefighters conducted "extensive operations" to extinguish the remaining hidden fire seated deep in the exterior walls of the building.
Port Royal Town Manager Van Willis said he heard the engines responding and decided to go check out the scene just before 10 p.m.
"They tried to surgically take care of the fire," Willis said. "It kept playing peek-a-boo with them."
Crews worked well into Thursday morning, taking care to save as much of Vista's inventory as possible, she said.
Responders covered what they could in the less than 500 square-foot store with tarps while they battled the flames. Once the fire was out, they let Vista go in and pull out items including original artwork by local artists.
Other inventory -- which Vista had recently stocked in preparation for the spring season and upcoming festivals -- didn't survive, including jewelry, scarves and clothes, pocket books and other goods, she said.
Dean Moss, a co-owner of the structure, said it's too soon to know the building's fate.
The Beaufort County Fire Scene Investigation Team worked Wednesday and Thursday with local law enforcement investigating the fire's cause and origin. The case remains under review, and a report was not available Thursday, according to the news release.
Vista, also a co-owner of MoonDoggies Cafe & Grill, opened Nuances in April. She formerly operated the home and garden store Butter Beans from the same building.
"I was just heartsick when I got the call," she said. "I've never had anything like this happen to me, and I'm very attached to that building having had two businesses in it."
The whole experience has left Vista both shocked and thankful for the outpouring of support.
In a 20-minute span Thursday afternoon, two residents stopped by with words of comfort and Port Royal Mayor Sam Murray visited, offering Vista support and a hug.
Vista said she plans to reopen the store, possibly in another building owned by Moss two doors down, as soon as possible.
"There's just been tons of friends in the community rallying," Vista said. "You just have to keep on getting up."