Revised on: 06.19.2018 at 09:47 a.m.
Posted on: 06.19.2018 at 03:00 p.m.
By Jefferson Weaver
A landmark eatery in Tabor City was destroyed early Friday by a fire of unknown origin.
“We will reopen,” said owner Rusty Tyson. “We’ll be open again in time for oyster season. This is just a bump in the road.”
Tabor City Police discovered the fire around 3:30 a.m., according to officials, and flames were already shooting through the roof. Tabor City firefighters were assisted by Williams Township, Loris, Roseland and Tabor City EMS. Firefighters fought the fire until after 10 a.m., then were briefly recalled after the blaze rekindled around noon.
County Fire Marshal Shannon Blackmon said investigators are still working to determine the exact cause of the fire. Due to the amount of damage, pinpointing the cause has proven difficult.
“We don’t suspect any foul play,” Blackmon said.
The building is a total loss, according to Deputy Fire Marshal Josh Cartrette.
“Because it was a commercial structure,” Cartrette said, “We’ve asked the assistance of the SBI fire investigator. There’s no indication the fire was suspicious.”
Employees helped move pictures, sopping stacks of souvenir shirts, and mementos out of the building Friday morning after the blaze. Restaurant patrons from as far away as Mullins, S.C., called and came by to offer condolences, assistance and comfort, Tyson said.
While the restaurant was destroyed, the huge live oak shading the building sustained only minor damage. The tree is estimated at well over 300 years old, and Tyson said he begged firefighters to keep it wet during the fire.
“The building we can replace,” he said. “Our tree is another story.”
While one side of the tree was scorched by the intense flames, the main trunk and huge, wandering limbs were largely untouched.
“We’ll have to trim it some,” Tyson said. “But it’s still here.”
Sue Gore Tyson wiped away tears and sweat as she loaded boxes of decorative items into a truck. She noted that the trademark sign referring to God’s parting of the waters remained undamaged.
“The fire and smoke were all around it,” she said, “and it wasn’t damaged. He was with us, and He will stay with us through this.”
Tyson said he plans to begin clearing the wreckage of the building as soon as the fire marshal and investigators give him the okay to get to work. He built the restaurant in 1985, after working for other restaurants where he learned the trade. Tyson said he wants to be open again within three months.
“When I first opened it,” he said, “we were serving food in 87 days. We can do that again.”
The Tabor location was the first of the three Dale’s restaurants, Tyson said. He said the restaurant is more like a family than a business.
He said the rebuilding process will be toughest on his 30-plus employees.
“I really don’t know what to do right now,” he said. “It’s going to be hard on a lot of people.”
On a typical weekend, the restaurant saw 900 to 1,000 customers, Tyson said. Some have been stopping by since the restaurant opened.
Those areas not destroyed by fire were damaged by smoke, water and foam. Family-style tables that were prepared Thursday night for Friday’s lunch crowd were covered in ash, soot and firefighting foam. Windows in the surviving dining room were coated in soot, and the only light in the room Friday morning came through holes in the roof that were created by the flames or chopped by firefighters fighting the fire from above.
Safety fencing was erected Monday, and Tyson was waiting permission to begin clearing the lot, so reconstruction can begin.
“I learned a positive mental attitude in the military, and that’s what I am staying with,” Tyson said. “God has been with us all the way, and he still is. We’ll be all right. Dale’s will be back.”