HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The wildfire that scorched nearly 20,000 acres across Horry County is contained, but South Carolina Forestry officials note it isn't out.
Authorities confirmed to WMBF News Tuesday morning that firefighters have the scene 100 percent contained, but that just means it is under control. The fire is not out.
Officials further said smoke will continue throughout Horry County until the area sees approximately six inches of rain. Low visibility du to smoke will continue in the evening and early morning hours for the next week.
Crews said Monday the fire was 98 percent contained, and officials began allowing some firefighters to return home.
South Carolina Forestry Commission officials told WMBF News on Monday the majority of hot spots are 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.
Horry County Fire Rescue spokesman Todd Cartner says as of Monday, the fire is 98 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 sixth 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 spread 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.
Estimates from the South Carolina Insurance News Service put damage topping $25 million.
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.
The total damage estimate Friday for the 13 mobile homes is upwards of $174,200. All damage was reported in the Woodlawn Drive area, just off of Highway 90 in Conway.
North Myrtle Beach spokeswoman Nicole Aiello says the damage sweeping her municipality is a completely different animal.
In all, 76 homes have been deemed a complete loss in Horry County. Seven others suffered major damage, and an additional 89 residences have minor damage.
"This is heartbreaking," said Horry County Councilman Bob Grabowski. "But for every house that burned down, firefighters saved four or five."
In all, 4,500 were evacuated in the wake of the flames described as "150 feet tall," causing many to scramble and gather their valuables and extra clothes. Many who fled from the fire left were described as leaving their homes with only the clothes on their back.
All shelters are now closed, but officials say two shelters remain on standby. The American Red Cross, Salvation Army and SC Baptist Disaster Relief are providing meal support as needed.
Among the areas evacuated were Strawberry Road and Cherry Circle in the Wampee section of Horry County. Those residents evacuated are now allowed back into their homes, according to county officials.
The City of North Myrtle Beach is also allowing all residents to return to their properties in the Barefoot Resort area. Those wishing to visit the damage area must have proof of residence to return. Officials say it will be closed to the public.
"I saw structures that were engulfed [in flames]," North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley said as she described her tours through the damaged areas this week. "I saw structures that were destroyed."
Despite the destruction that covers more than 30 square miles of land, the Horry County community has come together to lift up those displaced by the fire with support, supplies and encouragement.
Five hundred hotel rooms have been donated by area hotels for evacuees, some of which are pet friendly. The Grand Strand Area Humane Society is also set up as a pet evacuation site.
For more information on specific properties, homeowners can contact the North Myrtle Beach Public Safety Department at (843) 280-5511.
The South Carolina Forestry Commission tells WMBF News Marc Torchi, who owns a home on Woodland Drive, has been ticketed in connection with a fire that they say could have sparked the massive blaze.
Torchi, according to officials, was issued two tickets for failing to notify the Forestry Commission of an active fire and for allowing the fire to spread to the land of another.
The two tickets, the commission says, totaled $732.
Since the fire began Wednesday afternoon shortly after noon, Gov. Mark Sanford has declared a state of emergency for the 20,500 acres that have already burned.
The state Emergency Management Division has deployed support assets to Horry County in consultation with the governor's office. The state emergency operations center has also been activated, with assets dispatched to fight the fire - including a National Guard helicopter and other personnel.
Five Blackhawk helicopters continue to aid rescuers on the ground, dumping nearly 2 million gallons of water on the area to help douse the flames.
"This has already proved to be a devastating event for Horry County, and it isn't over," Sanford said. "This fire is continuing to spread, and it's incredibly important that people near the affected area pay close attention to emergency announcements and news outlets about developments with this disaster. We are continuing to work actively with the state Emergency Management Division and the Forestry Commission in determining what state assets are needed, and this action we've taken will allow our administration to deploy whatever is necessary on this front. In the meantime, I'd ask that every South Carolinian join Jenny, the boys and me in offering thoughts and prayers to those affected, and for every South Carolinian to think about ways in which they can help."
The South Carolina National Guard responded to the Horry County wildfire in North Myrtle Beach, following a request from the Emergency Management Division to assist Forestry Service personnel.
"Within two hours of notification, our four-man Blackhawk crew was in Myrtle Beach ready to support the Forestry Service," said Maj. Jay McElveen, assistant state Army aviation officer.
A total of 75 staff members from the South Carolina Forestry Commission are currently on scene with equipment. Forty-one members from other state jurisdictions are also assisting in the operation.
Earlier Wednesday, the Woodlawn and Serenity Place subdivisions were evacuated as the fire came too close for comfort for a number of residents. For those displaced, the American Red Cross has set up a temporary shelter for assistance at the Tilly Swamp Baptist Church, located at 4619 Highway 90. That shelter was closed at 7 a.m. Thursday after the Woodlawn subdivision evacuation was lifted.
The fire had died down around 11 p.m. Wednesday, and crews were hoping for a calm night. The evacuation of the Woodlawn subdivision was lifted around 11:15 p.m. Wednesday.
In addition to evacuations, the South Carolina Highway Patrol has closed down a large stretch of Highway 90 from East Cox Ferry Road to Old Reaves Ferry Road, in addition to Highway 31 from Robert Grissom Parkway to Water Tower Road.
According to WMBF StormTeam meteorologists, the active fire season runs from January to April. South Carolina typically sees an average of 5,000 to 6,000 wildfires per year, consuming some 30,000 acres.
The largest fire in state history was in Horry County in 1976, when 30,000 acres burned.
Anyone wishing to make donations for rescue crews and residents is asked to contact the Horry County Emergency Management at (843) 915-5150 prior to making any deliveries to the staging area.
Additional donations can be made to the American Red Cross at (843) 477-0020.