SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – After many hours and with more than 20 units on scene at one point, firefighters have contained a massive fire at the Eastern Wharf development in downtown Savannah.
According to the Savannah Fire Department, the blaze is believed to have begun around noon on the fifth floor of the site.
“Thank God there’s been no one injured or killed as a result of this. We know this could’ve been a whole lot worse,” said Savannah Mayor Van Johnson during an afternoon press conference.
There is still no word on the cause at the time.
Savannah Fire Chief Derik Menard spoke with News 3 about the difficulties his crews have been facing.
“The type of the construction is the biggest challenge,” he said, adding, “The winds were very strong from the west to the east and that really fueled the fire and really gave it all the oxygen that it needed to move very rapidly.”
About two and a half hours after the fire began, Savannah Fire said flames shifted to the rear of the Eastern Wharf. They sent a fireboat out on the east end of the Savannah River to help get the fire under control.
It’s been a multi-agency effort, with relief crews from Garden City, Pooler and Chatham Fire departments stepping in to help. Even local businesses have donated food for first responders.
Meanwhile, the Savannah Police Department (SPD) has been in the area assisting with traffic.
The department released the following traffic updates which are expected to remain through the night:
- The entire stretch of General McIntosh Boulevard is closed
- E. Broad Street at E. Bay Street is closed to eastbound traffic
- Broughton Street at E. Broad Street is closed to northbound traffic
- President Street at Randolph Street is closed to northbound traffic
- There is no longer a closure on the Truman Parkway
SPD and Savannah Mayor Van Johnson held a press briefing about an hour and a half after the blaze began. According to the mayor, Georgia Power confirmed power had been cut to some homes and buildings in the area as a precaution.
“We are just going to continue to pray for their safety and we gonna give them some space to do their job and we just want everyone to go home at the end of the day,” Johnson said of the first responders.
Watch the full press conference here:
From the Oglethorpe Mall out to the Lowcountry, witnesses said they could see smolder from the fire. Those near the scene watched as the structure fall down in flames and thick smoke.
“When we first got here, it was still raging pretty good, kind of in the core of the building it looked like,” said Jeff Quinn.
“Looks like they had the perimeter covered pretty well with water,” he said. “But the wind was howling and you could barely see the crane…when we walked in.”
A groundbreaking for the $200 million project was held back in October 2018. Some years before, a project had been planned on the 54-acre site but had fallen through during the recession.
A tribute to the history of the Savannah Riverfront area, Eastern Wharf would include a hotel, retail, housing and office spaces.
The city of Savannah also invested about $30 million to build one parking garage; a second being paid for by developers.
News 3 received the following statement from Eastern Wharf and Choate Construction Company regarding Thursday’s incident:
Our number one priority is the safety of team members and individuals working on site. We are thankful to report that everyone is safe and accounted for.
We want to thank all of the first responders, especially the Savannah Fire Department and the Savannah Police department, for their swift, coordinated and continued efforts today. Savannah is fortunate to have a top-rated fire department that has been proactively working with the development team at Eastern Wharf and Choate Construction to conduct visits and safety reviews. The Choate project team also regularly conducts evacuation drills and other safety checks in conjunction with their OSHA Strategic Partnership Program. These proactive measures and coordinated visits paid off today as the Savannah Fire Department knew exactly where set up to quickly fight this fire. While today was a serious event, thanks to the diligence and exceptional training of this community’s first responders we were able to avoid serious injury and contain a potentially dangerous situation.
As of late Thursday night, Savannah Fire said the cause of the blaze remains under investigation.
“Investigators will resume construction crew interviews in the morning,” the department said. “The ATF National Response Team has offered resource assistance for the large scale fire scene investigation.”