GEORGETOWN — An early-morning fire on Wednesday ripped through a block of Georgetown’s waterfront business district destroying at least eight buildings and leaving seven families homeless, authorities said.

The fire broke out about 5:30 a.m. and quickly spread along the 700 block of Front Street in the coastal community’s riverfront shopping and dining district, sending people who live in apartments scrambling to get out.

Ladders were needed to rescue some people, but no injuries or deaths were reported, Georgetown Fire Chief Joey Tanner said. The historic buildings have wood fronts that face the water and a common attic, which helped the fire quickly spread through the tightly-packed buildings, Tanner said.

“It’s kind of like your worst case scenario. Once the fire started, I think we are very fortunate that we stopped it where we stopped it.”

The fire was stopped at the South Carolina Maritime Museum, where a sprinkler system inside the renovated building helped the more than 100 firefighters who responded to the blaze, Tanner said.

Georgetown’s famous clock tower was also spared, he said.

The fire is contained, but could still smolder for a while. That will prevent building inspectors from checking the integrity of the buildings and fire investigators from trying to determine what caused the blaze, Tanner said.

“This is too dangerous to put people in those buildings to do an investigation. It could be days,” he said.

Officials have asked the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to investigate the fire because it was so large.

The owner of Limpin’ Jane’s Old South Eatery, Bryan Shepler, who lives above his business, said his business alarm went off at 5 a.m. and he first assumed it was a break-in.

But he quickly found out it was something different.

“Flames were shooting over the Harbor Walk and the floor was so hot,” he told The Sun News of Myrtle Beach. “I grabbed my guitar, that was all I could think about.”

He said he ran outside and the flames were spreading to other businesses.

Georgetown Mayor Jack Scoville promised to rebuild, but asked for patience as the investigation begins.

“It’s going to be a tremendous blow to the city,” Scoville said. “We ask for everyone’s thoughts and prayers.”