Cause of Calabash fire sparks investigation

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

CALABASH—The cause of an early-morning fire that destroyed a strip mall Monday on Carter Drive is still under investigation.

The fire, reported after midnight Monday, gutted an eatery and three adjacent businesses.

Calabash firefighters were called to the scene at 12:20 a.m.

Calabash Fire Department spokeswoman Honey Shore said flames were already shooting through the roof of 947 Bistro & Pub, formerly known as Nesbitt’s Bar and Grill, and quickly spread to adjoining businesses including Head Hunter Barber Shop, Reflections Stained Glass and Calabash Florist.

“It was fully involved upon arrival,” Shore said, noting the businesses shared a common roof.

The businesses were a total loss, but there were no injuries, Shore said.

The cause of the fire has not been determined. Investigators with the State Bureau of Investigation and the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office were on the scene Monday sifting through debris.

The investigators were called in due to the amount of damage, Shore said.

“Everybody has pretty much been up all night,” she said. “It’s been a busy couple of days.”

Calabash firefighters had just returned Sunday morning from assisting with a fire that destroyed 26 condominium buildings in the Carolina Forest community near Myrtle Beach, S.C. Calabash sent an engine and ladder truck to the scene there, while two engines remained here and Sunset Beach provided local backup, Bork said. Calabash firefighters were called to Carolina Forest around 5:30-6 p.m. Saturday and were released at 4:30 a.m. Sunday.

Firefighters from the Sunset Beach and Grissettown Longwood fire departments assisted Calabash in battling Monday’s strip-mall blaze.

“It was pretty much involved when we got here,” said Tal Grissett, chief of the Grissettown Longwood department.

Those efforts were supported by Calabash and Brunswick County EMS standing by at the scene. Ocean Isle Beach Fire Department provided backup coverage for the area.

“It’s a mess,” said Pati Lewellyn, owner for the past 17 years of Reflections Stained Glass, where she taught classes.

Lewellyn and her friends stood across the road Monday, observing the charred remains of the center that continued to smolder.

Donna Athan-Fuller, owner of Calabash Florist, had gotten a call about the fire after it broke out.

“She thought it was a prank and called us to see,” Lewellyn said.

“It’s gone,” Lewellyn lamented, adding, “I’ve still got my friends.”

She said she was supposed to teach classes Monday.

“I’m waiting for [students] to show up,” she said.

“We’ll put it back together,” vowed Judy Rodriguez, Lewellyn’s friend.

Lewellyn said Forrest King, owner of Calabash Photography just down the street, had offered to provide a place for her to meet at his studio.

Athan-Fuller cried as she sat in her truck with her husband, Sean.

She said she had booked 102 weddings in coming weeks and would do whatever necessary to make good on them.

“She’s got weddings this weekend,” Sean Fuller said, adding, “It’s more about helping everybody than what she lost.”
Athan-Fuller said one of their friends called them about the fire at a little past midnight.

“We got here just in time to see our building burn,” said Sean Fuller, who could still joke about “smokin’ hot deals” they will offer customers now.

Athan-Fuller said her dad, Roland Athan, built the building in 1985. He sold it to Marilyn and Wes Watson 20 years ago.

“She worked here as a kid and teenager,” Fuller said, noting his wife worked in crafts, shoes and linens stores that had previously been housed in the building.

Athan-Fuller said as far as she knows, nobody in the building had insurance.

“The building wasn’t quite up to code,” she said. “Nobody would insure it.”

Despite the loss, Fuller expressed confidence his wife would be OK.

“She’ll just keep on,” he said. “She always does.”

This is the third major fire that has occurred in Calabash in the past couple of years.

Last October, a fire destroyed 72-year-old Beck’s Restaurant on River Road. The restaurant is being rebuilt.

Capt. John’s Seafood Restaurant on the riverfront was gutted by an electrical fire in November 2010. The restaurant has since been rebuilt.


 Laura Lewis is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.