5 buildings destroyed, no lives lost in large Cherry Grove fire

5 buildings destroyed, no lives lost in large Cherry Grove fire

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - No lives were lost in a massive fire in the Cherry Grove area Saturday night that consumed five buildings, according to North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley.

The fire began in the area of 49th Avenue North with one building. Then, wind gusts from Hurricane Matthew blew embers into other buildings, which then burst into flames.

A supervisor with North Myrtle Beach Fire went to the scene first to evaluate the fire, according to NMB Battalion Chief Todd Davis. They then made arrangements to get certain equipment and a team of firefighters to the scene with National Guard transportation.

While it was initially reported that because Cherry Grove was in an evacuation zone, firefighters were not allowed in, Davis clarified that the firefighters who went to the scene did not go against orders. There was nothing the firefighters could have done initially, as the strong winds from Hurricane Matthew prevented them from fighting the fire.

That first group was brought to the scene by the South Carolina National Guard, who came with only hoses and started spraying the other buildings so the fire wouldn't spread. Crews could not use ladder trucks because of the high winds, Davis said. Six trucks and three ladder trucks were at the scene of the fire, including assistance from Horry County Fire Rescue.

The fire was brought under control by about 1 a.m., according to Davis.

A WMBF News crew on scene said the fire was still smoking shortly before 4 a.m., Sunday. Crews were still spraying remaining hot spots with hoses Sunday morning, and will continue to stir debris and spray hot spots the rest of the day Sunday, and possibly into Monday, Davis said.

City spokesman Pat Dowling released the follow statement regarding response to the fire:

It is standard practice that in conditions where there are high sustained winds, coupled with higher wind gusts, fire trucks cannot be used to respond to fires.

At the time of the initial second row structure fire in the Cherry Grove section of North Myrtle Beach on October 8, sustained wind speeds were 55-60 mph in North Myrtle Beach with frequent wind gusts of up to 70 mph.

When the initial fire was first reported, due to the high winds the fire department could not respond with fire trucks, but a battalion chief was sent to the scene to ensure that no one was in the structure. He also remained at the fire scene until hurricane conditions worsened further and forced a return to the station.

As the high winds continued, burning debris from the initial structure fire went airborne, crossed Ocean Boulevard and landed on the roof or roofs of a structure or structures on the first row. Ultimately, five multi-story structures were on fire along the first row.

As this situation was evolving, fire department leadership worked with the National Guard to have the Guard’s high-water rescue vehicle transport North Myrtle Beach firefighters with hoses to the fire scene. The firefighters attached their hoses directly to available fire hydrants and began to soak down structures adjacent to the fires in an effort to stop the spread of the fire to those structures. When a second National Guard vehicle became available after its involvement in an unrelated medical transport, it was also used to transport additional firefighters to the fire scene. This was a reasoned plan enacted and achieved by leadership in conjunction with firefighters.

Somewhat before 9:00 p.m. on October 8 the National Weather Service, with which the department had been working, notified fire department leadership that sustained and gusting wind speeds within the northern part of North Myrtle Beach had decreased to levels where it appeared that the risk was acceptable to activate the fire trucks, and the trucks then began to roll to the fire scene. The firefighters brought the fires under control and put them out. At around 1:00 AM, while fighting the fires, sustained wind speeds and wind gusts accelerated again, and the ladders on the ladder trucks had to come down. By that time, however, the fires were under control.

This was certainly a highly frustrating experience for our firefighters and for their leadership. All concerned are trained to fight fires. All concerned have a deeply felt desire to serve and protect life and property. But there are those times when conditions simply do not allow a fire department to respond with all of the tools normally available to it, and this was one of them. We appreciate the innovation the North Myrtle Beach Fire Department showed in the face of this reality, and we thank the National Guard for their valued support.

There may also be another perspective to this story— this incident is a real example of why people should heed an evacuation order. Had these structures been occupied, it is possible that injuries could have occurred.  In this instance, people had evacuated. 

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