Friday marks seventh anniversary of Highway 31 wildfire

Friday marks seventh anniversary of Highway 31 wildfire
Nearly 20,000 acres and almost 100 homes were burned in the 2009 Highway 31 Wildfire. (Source: WMBF News)
Nearly 20,000 acres and almost 100 homes were burned in the 2009 Highway 31 Wildfire. (Source: WMBF News)

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Friday marked seven years since the blaze that became known as the Highway 31 wildfire swept through Horry County in 2009.

Those who lived in Horry County probably have memories charred into their head of smoke so thick one could barely see to drive.

"I woke up in the middle of the night to a phone call saying, 'You're getting ready to go back to work'", said Lt. Kyle Post with the Myrtle Beach Fire Department. "I lived in Socastee and you could see it from there. And when we got into the city, you could see it was just homes burning, woods burning, yards on fire. It was organized chaos essentially."

It was around 12:30 p.m., when the first call went in to fire crews. It all started with one man burning debris outside on his property. That led to the fire sweeping through the county, scorching nearly 20,000 acres, destroying almost 100 homes and decimating wildlife vegetation.

Fire crews worked for almost a week to completely contain the blaze. Since then, things have changed.

Many communities, including the hard-hit Barefoot Resort Community, have worked to become FireWise.

It's a program that pushes homeowners to take responsibility and prepare their homes against the risk of wildfire. It also encourages property owners to learn about safe landscaping techniques, such as using alternatives to highly-flammable pinestraw, while also educating them on how homes ignite.

For North Myrtle Beach, any type of outdoor burning was outlawed.

Another change that resulted from the 2009 fire is the county-wide improvement of emergency response systems, since communication between firefighters in different departments proved problematic while battling the blaze.

"We now have channels in our radios where we can communicate with not only departments within Horry County, but departments that are coming from across the state," said Post.

Preparing first responders to handle the threat that wildfires pose, particularly to the Horry County region, has also improved over the last seven years.

North Myrtle Beach and Horry County Fire Rescue have firefighters that train and travel the country fighting wildfires. They then bring that knowledge and training home to the Grand Strand to face local threats.

Copyright 2016 WMBF News. All rights reserved.