A massive three-alarm fire ravaged a hardware store that has been a staple in Barnwell for years.
More than 50 firefighters from the Barnwell City, Hilda and Snelling fire departments responded to Buck's Hardware and Carpet Feb. 11 after someone noticed smoke flowing out the roof of the Jackson Street store just before 9 p.m.
Massive flames soon shot through the roof where the two parts of the building met - the origin of the fire, according to Barnwell City Fire Chief Tony Dicks.
It quickly spread throughout the entire building. The scene was later rocked by an exploding propane tank and ammunition could be heard popping in the back of the building.
Firefighters covered the building from all sides as well as from above using a ladder truck. Dicks estimates they sprayed more than 500,000 gallons of water during their four hours on the scene. Firefighters were called back a couple times for flare ups and eventually set up a hose to spray the remains until the next morning.
While there is not an official cause yet, Dicks said squirrels chewing on electrical wiring may be to blame. He said the owners recently saw a squirrel after looking above the ceiling to investigate falling insulation.
In all, 55 firefighters responded along with five engines, one ladder truck and two service trucks.
The store's owners are trying to come to grips with last week's devastating fire.
"It's hard to comprehend. The loss was so great," said Jason Stapleton, who owned Buck's Hardware and Carpet with his brother Joel. "You can never plan for something like this."
One thing that has helped is the outpouring of support from customers, friends and others in the community. "It's been kind of humbling," said Stapleton, who will miss his customers. "We're really fortunate to live in a close-knit community."
Stapleton also thanks the men and women who fought the fire. "I'm very thankful for our volunteers and dedicated firemen," he said. "They did all they could."
The brothers purchased the business, which operated as Webb's Hardware for more than 30 years, from Webb Boleman in January 2012. Boleman still worked at the store and retained ownership of the land and building.
The Stapletons previously ran Buck's Building Supply in Williston for three years and just celebrated five years in the business on Feb. 1. That store, which they sold to buy Webb's, was formed by the Schumperts - relatives of the Stapletons - in the 1920s as a lumber business in Dunbarton. In the 1950s, it was relocated to Elko when construction of the Savannah River Site uprooted Dunbarton and surrounding towns. As the business grew, the Schumperts added hardware and moved it to Williston.
While it was devastating to watch flames gut the store they've worked hard on, Stapleton said he is grateful no one was injured. "Everything else can be replaced," said Stapleton, who thanks his employees for their hard work.
As the mayor of Williston, Stapleton hasn't been able to give the future of the store much thought due to looking after his family and the town during the ice storm that came in as firefighters were battling the fire. "We will give it a lot of thought and prayer," he said of rebuilding.
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