Fires broke out within 15 minutes of each other at two Bluffton businesses early Thursday after flaming objects were thrown into the stores, according to law enforcement officers.
The fires began between 2 and 2:30 a.m. in attempts to rob Top Dollar Pawn and Easy 2 Own Furnishings, officers said. Both stores were closed and unoccupied at the time. Police believe the crimes are connected.
Shortly after 2 a.m., a small fire started at Top Dollar Pawn at 10 Kitties Landing Road. Bluffton Township Fire District responded and quickly put out the blaze, according to Deputy Fire Chief John Thompson.
Beaufort County Sheriff's Office Capt. Bob Bromage said an object was thrown through the window that caused the fire. Bromage said it was part of an attempt to rob the pawn shop, but metal bars on the windows prevented that.
The fire was contained to the front merchandise display area, Thompson said.
Within 15 minutes of the Top Dollar call, fire crews and Bluffton police officers responded to a fire at Easy 2 Own Furnishings at 21 Simmonsville Road.
When police arrived, they found the front door of the business in flames, according to a press release.
A surveillance camera outside the store recorded a man with a bandana over his face breaking in and stealing small electronics. As he left the store, he threw a Molotov cocktail through a front window, the release said.
The fire was similar to the Top Dollar one -- small and in the front merchandising area, Thompson said. It, too, was put out quickly.
"They both came in at pretty much the same time," Thompson said. "Neither fire spread to other businesses, and both were knocked down pretty quickly."
In both fires, damage was mostly related to heat and smoke, firefighters said.
Because the fires occurred about the same time, the Hilton Head Island Fire and Rescue Division and Burton Fire District were put on standby in case Bluffton firefighters needed help.
Bluffton police and the Sheriff's Office are investigating the fires. The S.C. Law Enforcement Division's arson investigation team also was examining each scene Thursday morning for evidence.
Last year, Bluffton police investigated a suspicious blaze at a grocery store in the same shopping center as Easy 2 Own that apparently was sparked when a Molotov cocktail was thrown through the glass front door, police and fire officials said. Police have not identified suspects in the Aug. 21, 2009, burglary and fire at El Super International market on Simmonsville Road, Capt. Bryan Norberg said Thursday.
Detectives took surveillance video from the grocery store after that arson, but the suspect's face was covered and he couldn't be identified, he said.
Investigators hope video surveillance from Thursday's arsons will help identify a suspect, Norberg said.