5 years after state's most damaging wildfire, prevention efforts continue

Source: South Carolina Forestry Commission
Source: South Carolina Forestry Commission
Source: South Carolina Forestry Commission
Source: South Carolina Forestry Commission

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Five years ago today, Horry County homeowners saw the first flames from what's being called the most damaging wildfire in South Carolina history. The South Carolina Forestry Commission says the Highway 31 Fire should be a learning experience for all of us. It was this time when area homeowners started to see the most damage happen from the fire.

Because of the number of homes that were lost, the Highway 31 Fire got a lot of attention. Ninety-seven homes were damaged, 76 were destroyed, and this cost people in the area $25 million in damage. It's also a testament to how fast fires move. The fire spread so quickly, and covered thousands of acres from Conway to North Myrtle Beach. After one day, it went across Highway 22 and shot toward the Barefoot Resort area.

Horry County Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Scott Thompson fought the flames, and says looking back, at one point, he thought the fire had us beat.

He said he was shocked by "the size of the fire, how fast it moved. It was the fastest moving woods fire I've ever seen in 25 years. Collectively, the responders that were there from SC forestry, we have never seen that type of devastation in the southeast."

It took about a week to get the flames contained, but since they did eventually overcome the fire, Thompson and other fire officials are dedicated to preventing fires any way they can. He says this fire anniversary should serve as a reminder that this time of year we have to be more careful since wildfires happen the most in the spring and fall. Plus, Horry County deals with more fires than any other part of the state. The Highway 31 fire also showed how any of those small fires can easily spread to 20,000 acres.

"It has brought awareness to the fact that we do live in a wildland-urban interface here," said Thompson. "And there are things we need to do as a community and as a county to address that."

You may have heard about the Firewise program, and its efforts to make communities safer, but Thompson says it's not likely each community will step up and get involved. So there are other easy important steps individuals can do at home. First, it starts with keeping your yard clean. Keep pine needles and dry leaves out of the gutter and from within 10 feet of your home, and wood piles should be kept 30 feet from your home. Cut back branches on nearby trees so the lowest one is 6 to 10 feet from the ground.

The best thing to do is to take any leftover debris to a recycling center, but if you do burn, be warned: Fires can double in size every minute until something stops it, or it runs out of fuel. It's up to you to make sure your yard doesn't have that natural fuel in it to keep a fire going.

For a comprehensive downloadable and printable guide on how to make your property Firewise, click here: http://www.state.sc.us/forest/fwland.pdf

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