Forestry commission warns of fire conditions, aggressive penalties

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF)  Warm temperatures in South Carolina this winter, combined with dry weather and low humidity are making it easier for brush fires to spread. Those conditions worry the state's Forestry Commission, which responded to fires in Horry, Florence and Darlington Counties Tuesday.

One of those fires burned approximately 22 acres off Highway 430 and Nichols Highway in northwestern Horry County.

Forestry Commission spokesman Scott Hawkins said that fire started as a backyard debris burn, and it spread out of control. Foresters contained the fire and ticketed the person responsible.

"It was kind of out of control for a little bit there, but they got it under control," explained Kip Woods from Pembroke who has been logging in the area.

There were four other smaller outdoor fires in northwestern Horry County Tuesday, and Wednesday one of those flared up again.

"The wind was blowing hard and I decided I better call my neighbor and have her call the fire truck for me," said Betty Benton.

She lives on Mount Olive Church Road, just across from the small brush fire that rekindled Wednesday.

"I didn't want it to get in other people's woods and get into [an abandoned] house she had on the place, and I didn't want it to go across to my house," Benton said.

On Wednesday there was also a new outdoor fire in the same area of the county off Highway 430. The landowner had notified the Forestry Commission, so it was a prescribed burn used to burn up underbrush that could have fueled any future fires.

The fire was contained, but the smoke still got the attention of someone who called the fire department to check it out. Firefighters determined the fire was under control.

Hawkins said calling the Forestry Commission to notify of a burn is the only way to burn outdoors legally. Failure to notify of a burn can cost up to $262.50.

Even if a fire is legal, it still must be contained. Anyone who allows a fire to spread to someone else's property could have to pay up to $470.

Wednesday's prescribed burn was even closer to Woods' logging area than the other fires. He was surprised that any burning was allowed right now.

"It's dry," Woods said. It's really dry, and this is sandy country anyway, and there's a lot of dead brush."

Hawkins said burn ban are only used in extreme situations and emergencies. However, he said outdoor burning right now is discouraged from the Pee Dee to the Grand Strand right now, even if it is not banned.

He said foresters are aggressively ticketing people who do not notify of planned burns and people who do not contain their burns.

Woods said he can understand the motivation from the Forestry Commission.

"Get people's attention," Woods commented. "I agree with that because there's so many assets we have to protect like homes and different things that fire can destroy that you can't replace."

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