New China Buffet destroyed by early morning fire along Restaurant Row January 31, 2014 

Charred remains are all that is left of the New China Buffet at 9601 N. Kings Highway near Lake Arrowhead Road, following a three-alarm fire early Friday morning.

The site left Mandy Zheng, owner of the buffet on Restaurant Row, trying to process what had occurred.

She said she was scared and nervous when she got the early morning call saying the business had burned.

“It was something like a bad dream,” she said, while standing near the still-smoking remains of her restaurant as fire investigators searched for clues about what may have started the blaze. It is expected to take them a couple of days to determine the cause of the fire.

The last major fire along Restaurant Row occurred in Feb. 2012 when the Seafare Restaurant burned to the ground.

The Seafare had closed doors for the last time in Sept. 2011. Nothing else has been built there. The destruction of the restaurant likely won’t hurt the industry overall in Myrtle Beach, according to Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce president Brad Dean.

“There are many restaurants in the Myrtle Beach area,” he said. “So the economic impact to the region could be negligible, but the economic impact to the business could be devastating.”

New China Buffet, which has eight employees, had been operating on Restaurant Row for about five years, Zheng said. She said Friday morning that she doesn’t yet know when or if the restaurant will reopen.

Kings Highway was shut down in both directions for six hours while crews battled the blaze. Battalion Chief Dan Shankle said someone passing by the restaurant called 911 to report the blaze about 2:30 a.m. Friday.

Crews from Horry County, North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach responded to the three-alarm fire.

Fire crews have three tiers to categorize blazes based on the manpower and resources needed to battle it, Shankle said. They also consider the size of the structure.

“The whole building was involved when we arrived. It was burning pretty intense when we got here,” Shankle said.

“It is so hard to get in front of a building like that when it’s fully involved.”

It took about 40 minutes for firefighters to get the blaze under control, he said.

Kings Highway reopened shortly after 8 a.m.

Firefighters worked to get the fire inside the New China Buffet under control and minimize damage to a nearby restaurant, the Giant Crab, Shankle said.

No one was hurt during the fire.

Horry County Fire Rescue Chief Fred Crosby said there was some damage to the Giant Crab because the restaurant’s windows cracked in the heat from nearby flames.

No one was at the Giant Crab Friday and its sign noted the business was closed for the season.

There was no damage to Chucks Steakhouse, which sits to the north of the Chinese buffet.

Firefighters also had to use caution arriving at the blaze because of icy road conditions, Shankle said.

While on the scene firefighters also had to be mindful of the cold temperatures and their health.

“When the firemen stop working, you start getting cold fast afterwards because you are sweating from the activity and all the turnout gear,” Shankle said.

“It takes a lot of people initially to get the fire knocked down.”

The last large fire in Horry County was March’s blaze at Windsor Green where 26 condo buildings were destroyed by a wildfire.

Contact TONYA ROOT at 444-1723.

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