Fire Damages River Street Building - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

01/21/06

Fire Damages River Street Building

Vince Zambito surveys the damage in the Bayou Cafe. Vince Zambito surveys the damage in the Bayou Cafe.

Two river street staples are badly damaged after an early-morning fire. The area of River Street around the Cotton Exchange and Bayou Cafe are getting back to normal now, but this morning an electrical fire broke out inside the Cotton Exchange, spreading smoke throughout the rest of the building.

Heavy smoke damage has put the two restaurants out of business for now.

Nine companies from the Savannah Fire Department flooded the cobblestone street around 6am. Business owners got an early-morning wakeup call.

Vince Zambito was one of them. He owns the Bayou Cafe, which has seen fire before. "Nothing like this," he said, walking us through the damaged restaurant. "This is a total loss."

The cafe has been in his family for 16 years. "It's got a lot of memories, a lot of history. A lot of people will be affected."

Including his ten employees. "It's going to slow things down a bit, I assume," Zambito said.

Zambito says it may be a long time before the Bayou Cafe is back to normal. Beside damage to doors and windows, heavy soot is covering not only tables, but everything in the cafe.

Zambito says firefighters did what they had to do. "They did a great job. Their response time was four minutes. Incredible."

"The opportunity for fire to spread is immense down here," said Savannah Fire Department spokesman Matt Stanley.

He says the fire was contained to the bar area of the Cotton Exchange, where they believe an electrical shortage was the cause.

Instead of dousing the entire building with water, he says firefighters tried to spare what they could. "The less water you use, the less water damage. Luckily we were able to confine the smoke to the Exchange and Bayou Cafe."

"My hats off to the Savannah Fire Department," said Zambito. "Great guys."

Zambito says all he can do is make the most of a bad situation. "Sometimes things happen. You have to rebuild. Start new, and start over. This is one of those times."

The other business affected include the Cinnamon Bear and a palm reader, who also lives in the building. Fire officials say their smoke damage is minor.

Reported by: Don Logana, dlogana@wtoc.com

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