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Thousands flee from 'huge' SC wildfire

Fire consumes more than 20 square miles, threatens coastal resort, hundreds in shelters.

BY VICKI DESORMIER | MYRTLE BEACH, SC | April 23, 2009


"I seriously doubt we’ll have it controlled before the weekend. . . This fire is huge in size"

—Russell Hubright, South Carolina Forestry


Nearly 23 square miles of costal South Carolina is burning in a wildfire tht is spreading toward the Myrtle Beach resort community, which is at the heart of the state’s tourist area. Nearly 100 homes are burning or directly in the line of the fire. As many as 69 houses and eight vehicles have been completely destroyed since the fire began on Wednesday.

“There are just skeletal remains of homes,” said Public Information Coordinator Derrec Becker of the South Carolina Division of Emergency Management. “There have been a few reports of injuries, but we have been very lucky in that respect.’

On Wednesday, 2,500 people were forced to evacuate their Horry County homes as a coastal wildfire spread Thursday toward one of the busiest tourist destinations in the state: Myrtle Beach. As of Thursday afternoon, the fire had consumed 15,000 acres and continued to push toward houses and resorts.

Thick smoke has reduced visibility across the region was expected to be less than a quarter mile.

Hundreds of firefighters, two dozen bulldozers and a water-dropping Black Hawk helicopter are being deployed in the area, but the fire continues to spread ahead of the work and Becker believes it may continue to burn for some time, noting that little short of heavy rains over a prolonged period of time will do anything to quench the fire.

Strong winds continue to fuel the blaze and have moved it through a wooded swath toward the Barefoot Landing development, a sprawling complex of houses, condominiums and golf courses separated from the main route through Myrtle Beach by the Intracoastal Waterway.

Officials hoped the waterway would act as a natural firebreak to protect more populated areas closer to the beach. As afternoon pushed on Thursday, it did not appear the fire was weakening in intensity nor being brought under control.

Just off the coast, subdivisions and golf courses have been carved from forest and swamps over decades and the area remain prone to wildfires that spring up in the woods and scrub. Some 30,000 acres burned in 1976.

The American Red Cross in South Carolina has opened two shelters in nearby communities. Volunteers from Red Cross facilities in three counties are working to operate the shelters where 315 people spent Wednesday night and are expected to stay at least through the weekend. More people are expected to move into the shelters as the fire forces additional evacuations. Late Thursday afternoon, there were some 450 people in shelters.

“We’re moving people in and trying to make them as comfortable as we can,” Regina Harworth, a volunteer for the Pee Dee chapter of the American Red Cross, said. “We are seeing a dozen or more new people come in every hour.”

In addition to the shelters, more than 700 hotel rooms and rental apartments have been offered to those who have moved inland in search of shelter from the fires.

Three major highways (Highways 90, 31 and 22) are closed due to the fire. The Intracoastal Waterway from Highway 501 to the North Carolina border with South Carolina is closed to all boat traffic due to dangers from the fire and the need of firefighters to use the waterway in fighting the blazes.

South Carolina is experiencing a severe drought and conditions are ideal for fires to burn rapidly, especially in the coastal areas.

“I seriously doubt we’ll have it controlled before the weekend,” Russell Hubright, a spokesman for the South Carolina Forestry Division which is coordinating the firefighting efforts. “This fire is huge in size and we’ve got some concerns with the conditions we have to work under.”


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More links on Wildfires

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