Fire 98 percent contained, concern shifts

  Fire 98 percent contained, concern shifts

27 April 2009

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Borth Myrtle Beach, SC, USA — While firefighters continue to gain ground on the wildfire that scorched more than 20,000 acres of land, worry over flare-ups and dried pine needles becomes a concern.

Firefighters and rescue crews continue to battle flames in Monday, hoping to help suppress a wildfire that has consumed 20,500 acres in Horry County since Wednesday afternoon.

South Carolina Forestry Commission officials told WMBF News the fire remains at 98 percent containment, with the majority of hot spots along Highway 31 and Long Bay Road.

But there are two main concerns: Carolina Bays – formed from peat, they burn deep into the ground and flare up once the winds pick up, and can be difficult to reach with land vehicles; and the pine needles that were not consumed in the original fires will brown and be shed, creating a layer of fast-burning fuel on the ground.

According to Forestry spokeswoman Holly Welch, the commission is confident it’s just a matter of time and more water until the fires are completely out, but urge continued caution.

Welch said firefighters and Forestry crews will remain in the field until the fire is 100 percent extinguished.

Saturday night and into Sunday morning, officials closed Highway 22 between Highway 90 and U.S. Highway 17 due to heavy smoke. Highway 90 between Old Highway 90 and Hillsborough Road was closed, as well.

Both, however, have been reopened.

On Monday morning, Highways 22, 90 and 17 re-opened. Highway 31 will remain closed from Grissom Parkway to Highway 9.

Closures in effect are: Highway 17 from 33rd Ave. South to Highway 22, and Highway 31 from Grissom Parkway to Highway 9. All closures are due to low visibility from smoke.

Horry County Fire Rescue spokesman Todd Cartner says as of Sunday, the fire is 85 percent contained. It continues to burn in the area of Highway 90, but officials do say that perimeter is contained.

WMBF News has received many emails from viewers asking about the fresh smell of smoke around the area, and Cartner responds to those concerns by noting there are still fresh embers in the area. In the morning, smoke stays closer to the ground, causing the smell of a fresh fire.

Monday marks the fifth day rescue crews have been battling the blaze, causing fatigue on the Horry County front lines. Cartner says Horry County Fire Rescue manpower has been reduced and is now supporting the South Carolina Forestry Commission with their efforts.

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford estimates the damage that spreads across 30 square miles of land has exceeded the $16 million.

County officials estimate property loss at an estimated $15.4 million. That figure, they say, includes insured and uninsured homeowners.

Emergency officials say a preliminary damage assessment for the unincorporated areas of Horry County shows a total of 13 homes were affected by the wildfire. Five have been deemed a total loss, while one faces major damage and seven have minor damage.

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