HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The 2009 Highway 31 wildfire in Horry County, marked as the most destructive in the state's history, scorched 20,000 acres of land and destroyed 100 homes in the county. It was accidentally started by a man burning household garbage outside his home. While some people disagree with the state's practice of controlled burns, state officials defend the burns as a prevention for catastrophes like the Highway 31 wildfire.
South Carolina Forestry Commission representative Brad Bramlett said controlled or prescribed burns destroy future hazards and fuels for uncontrolled wildfires. Those fuels are excess pine needles, leaves and other debris. The state burns over half a million acres annually, he said, but would benefit from more controlled and prescribed burns.
"We'd like to get closer to a million (acres)," Bramlett told WMBF News reporter Meredith Helline. "There's about 13 million acres of forests in South Carolina."
Fire is a natural part of the ecosystem. Controlled burns simulate natural lightning fires, which burn pine needles, debris, and unwanted species overgrowth. Burning encourages the regrowth of native vegetation.
However, the controlled burns are being met with push back from some hunters who say it destroys animals and habitats.
Bramlett and Department of Natural Resources and Turkey Federation biologists disagree, he said. Tom Hughes, a South Carolina Turkey Federation biologist, told WMBF News research supports Bramlett's statement. Hughes said while controlled burns may destroy some turkey nesting, turkeys will return. He said burning encourages more insects and vegetation afterward, creating better nesting sites for the birds.
Hughes said research is still yet to be done. Controlled burning season for the state is mostly during April and May, Bramlett explained.
WMBF News was alerted of the push back and importance of controlled burns during Myrtle Beach's South Carolina Fire Rescue Conference going on throughout the week at the city's convention center.