Officials Assess Damage from Fire in South Carolina

At least 50 employees at Screen Tight will remain out of work until repairs are made to a manufacturing plant hit by a fast-moving fire early Saturday morning.

Screen Tight, a family-owned business on U.S. 17 South, was destroyed after the blaze started in an administrative office, Production Manager Chuck Daniels said.

The fire is considered the worst industrial blaze to hit Georgetown in the past 20 years, fire officials said. The fire destroyed at least 40 machines at Screen Tight and caused at least $20 million worth of damage, Daniels said.

"About half the people in production are going to be out of work for some time," Daniels said.

There is no word when the equipment or Screen Tight building will be replaced, Daniels said. About 50 screen door-production employees will be without work until the damage is repaired.

The blaze did not damage a shipping area for Screen Tight or the Royal Wood building, which is next to Screen Tight, Daniels said.

Employees who help make Royal Wood outdoor trim could return to work this week, Daniels said.

The Royal Wood plant and Screen Tight are owned by Guerry Green, interim chairman of the Santee Cooper board of directors.

Green, who was at the fire scene Saturday, already has made plans to get some parts of Screen Tight back on track, Daniels said.

The administrative offices of Screen Tight will be moved to another building in Georgetown, Daniels said.

The screen doors could be made in undamaged buildings, Daniels said.

"We want to take care of our customers," Daniels said.

The cause of the blaze has not been determined.

An arson team from the State Law Enforcement Divison was called to the scene Sunday. The investigation could take at least 30 days, said Georgetown County Fire Chief Mack Reed.

The business owners can't begin cleanup or repairs until the investigation is complete, he said.

Firefighters watched for flare-ups at the site Sunday.

"We have some employees from public works helping us move metal around," Reed said. "Once we do our investigation, we'll let the owners do their clean up."

At least 10 families were evacuated from a nearby mobile home park on U.S. 17 South on Saturday night, Reed said. A Red Cross shelter was closed Sunday morning.

Evacuated residents returned home Sunday morning, Reed said.

Employees at Horry-Georgetown Technical College and the Georgetown National Guard Armory were told to leave the buildings late Saturday because of potential breathing problems caused by the toxic smoke in the area, Reed said. At least two firetrucks were damaged by the smoke and flames, he said.

A truck from Midway Fire Department and another from Georgetown County had discolored metal trim, Reed said.

"It was hydrochloric acid they use to make screens and doors," Reed said. "It turned the metal and chrome on the trucks a different color."

No firefighters were hurt, Reed said.

Firefighters from Midway Fire Department, Murrells Inlet-Garden City and Horry County helped Georgetown city and county firefighters knock down the flames Saturday.

Georgetown County brought 24 firefighters, Battalion Chief Pepper Lilly said. Midway Fire Department brought a crew of eight firefighters, plus a hazardous-materials team. At least six firefighters came from the city Fire Department, Lilly said.

Distributed by the Associated Press