BEAUFORT, S.C. – Investigators in South Carolina are looking into the cause of a fire that gutted the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce building, which had been the target of vandals in the past.
The Beaufort-Port Royal Fire Chief told the Beaufort Gazette that local investigators and S.C. Law Enforcement Division officials will work to determine the cause of the fire and where it started. The blaze broke out early Saturday morning and took about two hours to get under control, Fire Chief Reece Bertholf said.
"The only thing I could think about is 'Who? Who did it? Why? Why?'" Beaufort County Black Chamber CEO and president Larry Holman said. "This was something that was bringing the community back together and now we have a building here that is no good to anybody at this point."
Before the building broke ground, someone spray painted "Racist" in red letters on its sign in July 2015.
The Rev. Kenneth Hodges, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church, took pictures of the aftermath Saturday morning. He said he hoped the fire was not the result of foul play.
"When you're building a new building, there can be electrical and you don't know what," Hodges said.
The fire could set the $2.2 million project back at least a year, Holman said. It was to be completed in December with a grand opening in January. The building included a commercial kitchen, art gallery and office space for entrepreneurs.
"We're not going to let this stop us," Holman said. "I'm hoping the community will come together and look at this as something now that we have to go forward with."
Beaufort County is about 100 miles south of Charleston.