It may be a while before a string of businesses on North Tenth Street are open for business again, but on Sunday afternoon, the doors were thrown open to let the stench of smoke out and cool spring air in.
The street looked like a group spring cleaning for the neighboring businesses, not the scene of a two-alarm fire that poured thick gray smoke onto Tenth Street on Saturday night and caused an estimated $50,000 in damage.
“Looks can be deceiving,” said Stuart Insurance Agency owner John Bell. Firefighters broke down the door of Bell’s business to search for the fire.
The original 911 call was made by Tiffany Minx, bartender at the Ragtag Cinemacafe, where the 8 p.m. film had just started. “It’s a lucky thing that the Ragtag was showing movies,” said Paul Sturtz, booking agent for the theater. “It could have been an awful, awful fire.”
Columbia fire investigators are still trying to piece together clues indicating what ignited the blaze as of Saturday afternoon.
“We haven’t been able to pinpoint anything,” said Battalion Chief Steve Sapp of the Columbia Fire Department. “We can’t put our finger on an ignition source.”
Fire investigators took pictures of the scene early Sunday morning after the fire had been extinguished. They will continue to examine evidence and conduct more interviews with business owners, Sapp said, adding that the Fire Department does not suspect arson.
Inside the Captain’s Quarters, dark stains can be seen on the ceiling where smoke penetrated the shop through the vents. The fire began in the basement of the neighboring store, Best of the West, and smoke spread to the other businesses.
The cement ceiling of the shop’s lower level is black and the stain of smoke seeping in through the neighboring basement room appears in dark tongues on the wall by the stairs going out to a back alleyway.
Bell said he thinks the concrete structure of the building is what contained the fire in the basement.
Upstairs, owner Susan Haines, her daughter Laura and her sister Louise took inventory of what is lost and what can be salvaged.
The wigs and scarves that line the shelves cannot be sold. The smell of smoke has permeated them. The women smiled, though, as they wiped greasy soot off of white bottles of shampoo and conditioner, thinking of Haines’ other daughter who emailed her concern from where she is stationed in Iraq. “She doesn’t have to clean,” said Laura Haines, grinning.
Bell said the businesses, including the Best of the West, The Captain’s Quarters, the Orr Law Firm, and the Ragtag Cinemacafe, are awaiting insurance inspectors and electricians before getting back to business.
The Captain’s Quarters may take a week to re-open because of inspections and the need for the walls, ceiling, and carpet to be cleaned.
“We can’t bring people in until it’s user friendly,” Haines said.
The same goes for the Ragtag. General manager Sara Bantz, worked all day Sunday cleaning the soot and airing out the theater.
“Probably the biggest thing for us is that we had to cancel two shows and send everyone home without their movie,” she said.
Bantz and other staff also worked to fix damage done to a 200 pound screen. The screen, which will be used in an outdoor film festival, was stored in the basement and sustained the most damage. “The screen got drenched,” Sturtz said.
Don Hart, owner and master silversmith at Best of the West said the quick response of the Fire Department and the construction of the building is what saved his business.
Bell felt the same way, “It takes something like this to begin to appreciate our community and the response of the fire department,” he said.