R&J Produce market in Hinesville was destroyed by a fire early Monday.
Deputy Fire Chief Kris Johansen said the fire was contained to the produce store, which is connected to Ducks Pawn shop at 1137 E.G. Miles Parkway. The pawn shop sustained smoke damage.
Hinesville fire Capt. Robert Kitchings said fire crews responded to R&J Produce at 4:15 a.m. and were able to get the fire under control within minutes.
“When they initially pulled up, there was fire blowing out of the front windows and front doors,” he said, adding that firefighters were concerned about the blaze spreading to neighboring businesses.
It could have been worse. There were propane tanks outside the property, “and they actually found a couple more inside that were off-gassing as they made entry, so they were able to cool those down as well as fight fire at the same time,” Kitchings said.
He added that the deputy fire marshal is investigating, but the probe had to be halted because it appeared the building’s structural integrity was compromised. Crews worked to shore up the building so the investigation can continue.
Rick Schroeder, who has owned R&J Produce at the E.G. Miles Parkway location since September 2005, vowed that his business would make a comeback.
“I just can’t believe it, but we’re going to start over again,” a stunned Schroeder said.
“We should be back. We’re going to start selling watermelons and probably tomatoes out Monday from the tent. That’s when we can start,” he said, his voice breaking.
Kitchings has been a customer.
“I used to come here and buy boiled peanuts quite a bit,” the fire captain said. “He’s been in business for about 11 years now, so he knows quite a few people, he’s done business with quite a few people. He’s actually a supplier for a local restaurant around here.
“This is one of those things where we have our local businesses that want to keep business local, keep stuff in town,” Kitchings continued. “And so not only is it going to affect him, but also other businesses in the area.”
Nelson Lopez, owner of the popular restaurant El Coqui, in Central Station Plaza on Veterans Parkway, said Tuesday that the loss of R&J Produce will have an impact on his business.
“It was a one-stop shop,” he said. “I would purchase soft drinks such as Malta, Cola Champagne — which is not readily available in this area. The store also carried unique vegetables and roots used here and in the Hispanic community. We’re having to make arrangements to go to Jacksonville and other areas to buy what we need.”
When asked about community support for R&J Produce, Schroeder said, “It means a lot, makes you want to cry sometimes.”
Overcome with emotion, he broke down.
Units from both fire stations in Hinesville as well as Liberty County Station 15, Walthourville and Fort Stewart firefighters responded to the fire. No injuries were reported.