While investigators slogged through the blackened cinders of his restaurant Tuesday, state Sen. Marc Basnight said he intends to build it back as soon as possible.
By CATHERINE KOZAK
NAGS HEAD, N.C. - While investigators slogged through the blackened cinders of his restaurant Tuesday, state Sen. Marc Basnight said he intends to build it back as soon as possible.
"I'd like to start tomorrow," the Manteo Democrat and Senate leader said in a telephone interview.
Fire destroyed Basnight's Lone Cedar Cafe within hours after a motorist reported it at 12:48 a.m., not long after the last few people had left, said Nags Head Town Manager and Public Safety Director Charles Cameron. Nags Head officials estimate losses in excess of $1 million.
Only a cinder block fish-cleaning room and an office above it remained standing. More than 55 firefighters battled the blaze before it was brought under control in about two hours. Firefighters continued to douse hot spots into the afternoon.
"There was so much fire, the fire department couldn't make a dent in it," said Dare County Fire Marshal Doug Remaley. Eight fire departments were at the scene, he said.
Outside the yellow police tape, onlookers, some dabbing tears, watched. Groups of employees, neighbors, fellow restaurant workers and community leaders came and went, hugging each other and sharing notes.
"Sad, sad, sad," said Connie Gray, a Manteo resident and friend of Basnight. "It's just fortunate that nobody was inside."
Amy Davis, who has worked at the restaurant for seven years, said peeler crabs in outside shedders behind the building survived the fire. They were taken to Wanchese.
The popular eatery on the causeway between Manteo and Nags Head had just launched its 12th season.
Basnight drove home from Raleigh, Cameron said, arriving at the scene at about
4:40 a.m. The senator was a fixture at the restaurant, which employed about 100 people, when he was in town. He would help clear tables or serve drinks. In between, he would stroll between tables greeting people. The Lone Cedar was the inevitable choice of big names who visited the Outer Banks.
The senator, his voice weary, said he was feeling the same shock anyone would when something they've invested their lives in has been destroyed.
"When I was there, I was like an employee like anybody else," he said.
Basnight's wife, Sandy, and daughter Vicki ran the restaurant, which was filled with family treasures that included original old photographs, antique decoys, furniture and china, and a large collection of decorative fish plates.
The State Bureau of Investigation was called by the Nags Head Police Department to help the town's investigators, Cameron said. They were being assisted by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice, said the ATF works with the bureau of investigation in examining whether arson was involved in fires at commercial establishments.
Cameron said the town felt that because it was a "large-loss" fire, it would be wise to call in the experts.
"The owners want to know what caused the fire," he said.