The t-shirt and souvenirs shop by Johnnie Mercer’s Pier went up in flames today after a fire started at about noon, fully engulfing the small building. There were no injuries and Wrightsville Beach police said the fire wasn’t suspicious, but the State Bureau of Investigation was on scene to investigate.
Wrightsville Beach Fire Department chief Glenn Rogers said that the investigation into the fire at King’s Beachwear will likely run well into Saturday. The fire was first reported around noon over the telephone by an employee. By 2:30 p.m., fire crews from Wrightsville Beach and Wilmington were still battling the fire; the building was badly charred and the roof had collapsed.
Neighbors praised the quick response by the fire department. Wayne Bland, a neighbor on Seagull Street, said he first saw flames at 12:04 p.m.
“This was an example of people being prepared. There were here in less than five minutes,” he said.
King’s owner Yoav Kohavi said he opened his shop at around 10 a.m. and “everything was fine.” He was called about two hours later by an employee to inform him of the fire. Police said there were two employees at the store.
“They walked out right away, as soon as they saw smoke,” Kohavi said.
He said that an electrical unit may be to blame for the fire at the 21 East Salisbury St. shop.
“I think it’s coming from the corner from the electrical panel,” Kohavi said.
Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said there was a smaller fire at the location two years ago and that the electrical system had been updated since then. A nearby resident told the Lumina News that they saw a crew working on the panel earlier in the day.
The store sells t-shirts, beachwear, water toys and other souvenirs. Kohavi said that the shop had just gotten a new shipment about an hour earlier. The shipment probably just added to the flames, officials said.
“It’s an old, old building,” said Capt. Valerie Blanton of the Wrightsville Beach Police Department. “And all the things they probably have ready for the summer season gave it fuel.”
However, Town manager Tim Owens said that the wind direction helped keep the fire from spreading to other buildings or nearby houses. The winds were estimated to be between 15-20 knots.
“It is a really good thing there is nothing around it. It is good the wind is blowing that way,” Owens said.
While Kohavi is the owner of the King’s retail shop, the building has a different owner, who could not be reached on Friday.
The parking lot at East Salisbury Street could be closed this evening as the investigation and cleanup continues, Owens said. Some people couldn’t get their cars out of the parking lot on Friday afternoon as fire trucks blocked the exits.
The fire occurs as the Wrightsville Beach Fire Department is welcoming Rogers as its new chief, who just started 11 days ago.
“It is a good break in for the chief and department,” Wrightsville Beach Mayor Bill Blair said.
It was also an early test for the town’s new public works director Buck Squires.
“No, we will not run out of water,” Squires said. “We have every pump we own up and running right now.”