A massive fire in historic downtown Jesup destroyed parts of a shopping center Monday night.
Flames raced through the 50-year-old Whaley Center near the intersection of Broad and Cherry streets, affecting seven retailers and leaving behind a pile of ashes and rubble.
Wayne County Emergency Management Agency Director Keith Wright said the fire was reported shortly after 8:30 p.m. When firefighters arrived, flames could be seen coming from a consignment store known as Fair Haven, which donated its profits to a local women’s shelter.
The flames spread quickly, annihilating the store and adjacent businesses. The Flying Eagle Feed and Seed store proved the hardest to battle due to multiple roof layers built over the years and heavy tar used to seal the roof. The business also sold dogs, cats, fish and other small animals. Firefighters rescued several dogs, cats, gerbils and an iguana, but many animals perished in the fire, although Wright is uncertain how many. As they tried to rescue the animals, firefighters had to pull out due to heavy black smoke and intense heat. There also was concern about a back flash of flames injuring the firefighters. The animals were panicked during the rescue and were taken for treatment to Wolf Animal Hospital in Jesup.
Three firefighters were injured, one from heat exhaustion, another from blood-pressure elevation and another who fractured his ankle.
Flames as high as 100 feet leaped from the structure as fire trucks with ladders extended were used to extinguish the blaze.
Hinesville sent a tower truck, according to Hinesville Fire Department Public Information Officer Capt. Kris Johansen. Johansen said six personnel were dispatched to the scene and set up an elevated master stream to fight the blaze from above.
HFD Chief Lamar Cook was on hand to assist, and the Long County/Ludowici Fire Department sent personnel and equipment to help the crews on scene.
According to Johansen, the fire was extinguished around
3 a.m. Tuesday except for a few hot spots that flared up periodically.
Wright said all seven stores in the center and one office building were destroyed in the fire. The state fire marshal and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating.