MURRELLS INLET, SC (WMBF) – Turtles, alligators, snakes, and aquariums of fish did not survive a fire that destroyed the Nature Center at Huntington Beach State Park Wednesday morning.
The preliminary investigation has determined that a lightning strike was the probable cause of the fire, according to Jackie Broach, the public information officer for Georgetown County. As of Wednesday at 11:20 a.m., units were still on scene extinguishing "hot spots" at the site.
The Midway Fire Rescue received a call Tuesday morning around 2:30 a.m. about a fire that occurred at Huntington Beach State Park Nature Center.
According to Midway Chief Doug Eggiman, the three-story nature center was engulfed in flames and is a total loss.
By later in the morning, fire crews were on top of the building, putting out hot spots. Shortly after 8 a.m., a bulldozer began tearing down what remained of the center.
People camping just across the road at the state park all said that it was around 3 a.m., Wednesday they awoke to see flames in the sky and lights from fire trucks.
Many said they visited the animals at the nature center often during their stay.
"We went this year to observe the animals being fed," said Amy Craig, who was camping at the park. "The horseshoe crab. There's a touch tank with stingrays, turtles, snakes, baby alligator, fish tanks with various fish in it. Watch the turtles being fed. They were rescues. And so we heard the story of the turtles. And so that's what we were thinking about last night when we watched it burn."
Flames were so heavy, fire crews could not get in to save any animals.
Remaining hot spots made it unsafe for anyone to get inside the building, leading to its demolition.
Through Wednesday morning, carloads of beachgoers were turned away from the park's entrance. Campers stopped by to see what remained, which was mostly metal and ash.
The fire was a shock to the park's employees, who were emotional when speaking about the attachment they had to the animals they cared for.
Midway Fire, Murrells Inlet Garden City Fire, and Horry County Fire crews assisted with the fire.