Authorities say that a fire that destroyed a popular café and extensively damaged an adjoining convenience store in the Raysville Community last Friday has been ruled accidental.
Raysville Bait and Tackle and Bob's Cafe at 5240 Lincolnton Highway, will be rebuilt, according to the businesses' co-owners, Barbara Allman and Adam "Bubba" Murphy.
"We had fire insurance," said Ms. Allman, who along with Mr. Murphy has been leasing the multi-businesses from Bobby Powell since last November. "This is our worst nightmare. It's terrible, because this was our livelihood. This was our home away from home. These businesses were a big part of the Raysville Community. We've got to rebuild."
The blaze which was first noticed shortly after 6 a.m. by Ms. Allman's son, Chris, who was passing by en route to work at Fort Gordon, was ruled accidental later on Friday after a probe by local and state fire officials.
"We've ruled the fire accidental," said McDuffie Fire/Rescue Services Assistant Chief Stephen Sewell. "We weren't able to rule out a possible electrical problem or a possible lightening strike."
A thunderstorm reportedly hit the area about 5 a.m.
Asst. Chief Sewell said he and Michael Crosby, a state fire marshal, combed through charred debris in an attempt to discover the cause of the fire, which started in the restaurant, located in the rear of the store.
Fire Chief Bruce Tanner said more than 30 firefighters battled intense flames for a half hour after arriving on the scene. He said he asked for mutual aid from the Thomson Fire Department, who sent their ladder truck. Firefighters from the Columbia-Martinez Fire/Rescue Services' Cobbham Road engine company also assisted in fighting the fire.
Chief Tanner said firefighters were hampered in their efforts to extinguish the flames because of varying voids in the roofs and ceilings of the businesses.
"The fire was in the void areas and caused us some problems for a while," said Chief Tanner.
News of the fire spread quickly throughout the Raysville Community and elsewhere.
John Dean, who has lived in the area all of his life, said seeing the flames was sad.
"I grew up here," said Mr. Dean. "I drank my first beer here. This is pretty rough, because these businesses meant a lot to me and a lot of other people around here."
One of those is Tabitha Holbrook, a cashier, who had worked there for the past 14 years.
"I'd worked there since I was 12 years old, doing all kinds of jobs," said Ms. Holbrook.
Michael Dollar, now 20, worked there, too.
"I'd been working there since I was in the fifth grade," said Mr. Dollar, an Augusta Tech student, who is studying to become a radiologist. "It's a must that the owners rebuild, because I need a job and the people around here need a good place to shop and eat."
The businesses employed 10 people.