New tapes detail wildfire evacuation efforts

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - It's been nearly three months since a devastating wildfire ripped through Horry County, and now, WMBF News is getting a first look at never before seen footage of the evacuation efforts.

On Tuesday, nearly 24 hours of video show police officers going from house to house, attempting to evacuate any residents holding out hope their home wouldn't be destroyed by the fire in the Barefoot community.

Further 911 calls and audio recordings detail how public safety officials and emergency dispatchers fished for additional ways to alert those in the Barefoot community to evacuate their homes immediately.

At 1:23 a.m., an officer is heard calling someone and saying he was worried about the fire and Barefoot residents.

"William, I know it's late, but wanted to give you a shout. But this thing is getting close to 22, I would say probably a mile, quarter mile from 22, and they're saying it going to jump. Just wanted to kind of keep you updated. I think they're going to close 22. It's getting so close, and I'm getting concerned about Barefoot."

The audio was recorded inside Officer Guy Johnson's patrol car and camera the night of the wildfire.

By 1:48 a.m., a fireball exploded and jumped Highway 22, heading right towards Barefoot.  That's when public safety officials were heard saying it was time to evacuate the area.  Those workers, according to the tapes, were stationed on top of the bridge at Water Tower Road watching the fire.

After that time, emergency evacuations began.  However, homes were already on fire.  Authorities could be heard on the tapes calling the county to alert them of what was going on.  Law enforcement requested for city dispatchers to call Chief Barstow and Director Bailey to alert them of the wildfire status.

"Call the county and tell them it jumped. See if they can use their 911 system to tell these people in Water Tower Road and Barefoot to evacuate. It's coming, it's already jump 22 here at the Water Tower."

A number of the recordings, however, were changed to delete personal information from those accessing emergency dispatchers.  North Myrtle Beach spokeswoman Nicole Aiello says the tapes contained information that is of a personal nature. Public disclosure would constitute an unreasonable invasion of personal privacy of the callers.

Following the fire, some residents of Horry County questioned officials about evacuation steps taken during parts of the Horry County wildfire.  Residents asked why fire officials were cuaght by surprise, leaving residents only minutes to evacuation.

Public safety officials said that the fires were too unpredictable and flared too quickly to determine what would happen.

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