Horry County moves to make the county safer, more prepared for wildfires
HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Horry County is moving forward with making some changes, in an effort to prepare you for the threat of a wildfire.
The Carolina Forest Civic Association wrote a letter to Horry County Public Safety in August listing nine recommendations it would like to see the entire county take regarding fire safety and prevention. And last week, the county responded.
The first recommendation was to become a "Fire Adapted Community." The following is a list of components an entire jurisdiction must take to become "Fire Adapted."
It is in or near a fire adapted ecosystem.
It has adequate local fire suppression capacity to meet most community protection needs.
Its structures and landscaping are designed, constructed, retrofitted and maintained in a manner that is ignition resistant.
It has local codes [building, planning, zoning, and fire prevention codes] that require ignition-resistant home design and building materials.
Fuels on land near and inside the community are treated and maintained for safety.
It has and uses a community wildfire protection plan.
It has built other safety features such as buffers between fuels and the community; safe designated evacuation routes; and safe zones in the community when evacuation is not advisable.
Public Safety Director Paul Whitten said this recommendation was a worthwhile goal but would take time to develop. Whitten said other components such as Building Codes and Zoning would require considerable review and discussion.
The second recommendation was to establish a call-in system for the unincorporated areas of the Waccamaw River. It said businesses and individuals wishing to burn debris in their areas must call the Fire Department to see if any burning bans are in place. Whitten responded saying HCFR doesn't have the administrative staffing outside of regular business hours, whereas a lot of open burning happens on the weekends. And, Whitten said enforcement would be difficult. Whitten offered an alternative solution saying the county can take steps to make the status of burn bans more easily accessed by offering an icon on the county's web page providing the information.
The third recommendation was to change the way the county is notified that a fire exists. CFCA said the reality in Horry County is that the County E911 is typically the first notification that a fire exists. The E911 telecommunicators immediately notify the appropriate fire department and SC Forestry.
Whitten said changing the State Code of Laws would be a case by case decision, based on the specific issue.
The fourth recommendation was to restrict golf courses from burning debris. Whitten said a blanket restriction might not be the best answer, but a program could be developed whereby gold courses could work with the appropriate fire department to only burn when conditions are favorable.
The fifth recommendation was to increase awareness of the dangers of wildfires.
Whitten said this recommendation has already began and HCFR and SC Forestry are working to increase the awareness of wildfires, and are taking steps to increase the availability of "Fire Wise" programs.
The sixth recommendation was to modify Horry County Ordinance 80-09. Whitten said under the International Building Codes, the jurisdictional Fire Chief has certain authorities granted to him/her. One of these authorities is the ability to declare a burn ban, when he/she determines the conditions warrant.
The seventh recommendation was the ban all burning of the Waccamaw River. Whitten said this would be difficult because the ban could be interpreted as placing undue burned on development in the affected area. Whitten said the public safety community would typically take the position in favor of banning open burning, but the needs of the entire community should be considered before making a final decision.
Recommendations eight and nine were to maintain utility easements, privately owned and undeveloped land.
Whitten said the size of Horry County makes this a difficult issue. Whitten said attempting to legislate this is problematic, as many of Horry County's zoning laws require vegetative buffers between different zoning districts. Sometimes, removing the potential fuel is contrary to the objective of visual separation.
Whitten said, he believes the best course of action is to make an effort to address this on a more localized and voluntary basis. Whitten said the county has had success when dealing with property owners, especially utilities, about a specific location.
Whitten said the county should work towards becoming a Fire Adapted Community, which will not be a quick project.
Whitten said he will schedule quarterly update reports to the Public Safety Committee, so the community is aware of the progress being made.
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