Firefighters who put out a blaze at a state park nature center near Murrells Inlet early Wednesday morning say the visitor center is now a “total loss.”
Midway Fire Rescue Chief Doug Eggiman said the fire at Huntington Beach State Park killed all animals on display inside the center. He said early indications are the fire began after a lightning strike.
Eggiman said firefighters were dispatched around 2:34 a.m. and found the three-story nature center completely consumed by flames when they arrived. “Unfortunately, it was clear to the initial arriving engine company that there was really nothing they could do,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “Any animals in there had no doubt already perished in the fire.”
Crews from Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District and the Georgetown City Fire Department joined Midway to fight the fire for the next four hours. The blaze was under control by 6:30 a.m., according to South Strand News. Eggiman said there was no way to rescue the animals inside, since the fire was “too fully involved” by the time his crews arrived at the scene.Huntington Beach’s 2,500-square foot Nature Center featured a saltwater touch tank, a live baby alligator and various other exhibits, according to the park’s website. The center focused on the intersection of land, marsh and sea environments in the Grand Strand.
A spokeswoman with the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism (SCPRT), which oversees the State Parks Service, said the agency is assessing the loss of the center and will determine short-term as well as long-term goals once finished.
“The nature center was an iconic structure that helped interpret this natural beauty and significance,” SCPRT said in an emailed statement. “Thousands of visitors came not only to learn more about Huntington Beach, but to find inspiration and make memories.”
Park officials on Wednesday were not allowing public access to the north side of the park, where the nature center is located. The rest of the park, including the historic Atalaya Castle was not affected by the fire.