Jun. 6—As a woman stood before dawn Monday outside of her workplace, she saw smoke curling out of a top corner of the Ellis Marine building across the street at 3697 Community Road.
But the fire spread as rapidly as the bakery employee's quick call to 911 at 5:04 a.m., leaving Glynn County firefighters with a scene of flaming destruction upon arrival minutes later, county division fire chief Wendell Knighten said.
By 8 a.m. Monday, firefighters were still trying to determine the cause and source of the inferno that destroyed the long-standing, family-owned boat sales and repair business, Knighten said.
"She saw smoke coming from the right side of the building," Knighten said of the woman, who works at Bimbo Bakeries USA, 3696 Community Road. "While she was on the phone with 911, she could see the flames getting bigger. When the fire department arrived, the whole front was burning — windows busted out, flames, all of it. The whole building is shot."
It was the second structure fire at an established business in the Golden Isles in less than 12 hours for county firefighters, following a blaze that caused heavy damage Sunday night at Stan Boatright and Sons Volkswagen Repair and Parts at 6101 U.S. Highway 341, Knighten said (See related story.)
It may be difficult to determine where and how the fire started at Ellis Marine, said Knighten, who also serves as the Glynn County Fire Department's Fire Marshal. He thinks the fire likely started somewhere in the front of the building.
But the building's security surveillance cameras were destroyed in the flames, he said. The business is surrounded by an electrical fence, he said.
"And that (fence) was locked when the fire department came on scene," Knighten said. "Right now, we're still looking and waiting."
One thing Knighten was sure of Monday morning: the fire totally destroyed the Ellis Marine building. He estimated fire destroyed more than 50 percent of the main building; the remainder of the structure suffered extreme smoke and heat damage, Knighten said.
"The main building was gutted front to back," he said. "The (support) beams are all melted and warped. This whole building is going to have to come down."
Firefighters had the flames under control in a little more than an hour. Brunswick Fire Department firefighters assisted in battling the blazes.
"We're mopping up right now," Glynn County Fire Chief R.K. Jordan said shortly after 6:30 a.m. Monday.
As firefighters wrapped up the scene around sunrise, Robert Ellis looked on in shock at the fiery devastation to his business. He arrived as firefighters were in the thick of the firefight.
"I couldn't believe it," he said, describing the flames. "Then I stood there and watched the building collapse down."
In a wry observation, he noted the conflagration occurred at the height of his busy season. He said the fire destroyed tools that he had used for decades.
"It couldn't happen in December or January," Ellis said.
The Brunswick News' Terry Dickson contributed to this story.