Fire officials reflect on lessons learned 10 years after Highway 31 wildfire

Fire officials reflect on lessons learned 10 years after Highway 31 wildfire

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Monday marks the 10-year anniversary that a devastating wildfire burned almost 200 homes in Horry County.

“Basically it was just one of the largest fires we’ve ever been on, or I’ve ever been on,” said Mike Ney, the Pee Dee Regional Forester with the South Carolina Forestry Commission.

So to prepare for the next one, if it happens, Neal Witkin invited the community and Horry County Fire Rescue, North Myrtle Beach and Forestry Commission leaders to get together.

“I just thought after 10 years, the public really should have the opportunity to just ask questions of our firefighters, you know, about what we’ve learned,” Witkin said.

“Since the fire happened, a lot of things have happened. A lot of training has gone in place, looking at equipment needs and different things. I think we’ve got four to five ATVs with pumps on the back to get to areas we couldn’t get to before,” said Horry County Fire Rescue Chief Joseph Tanner.

Massive Highway 31 wildfire destroyed almost 200 homes in 2009 (Source: WMBF)
Massive Highway 31 wildfire destroyed almost 200 homes in 2009 (Source: WMBF)

Tanner added that the county’s alert system, Code Red, has been added.

There is also eight brush trucks instead of three, several volunteer fire stations have been turned into career stations and recruits now have hands-on wildfire training.

Some firefighters have even gone out West to learn and be better prepared for fires in our area.

Another improvement since 2009 is the technology.

“We’ve actually built up our staff so we have more bulldozers on the ground,” Ney said.

New and improved bulldozers and tractors are enclosed in order to keep smoke and heat out, unlike what was available during the Highway 31 wildfire.

“We’re running around about 50% enclosed cabs and 50% open cabs and our want, or our need, is to get those cabs around everyone. That’s our target,” Ney said.

Ney also added that a furlough in 2009 kept crews from having more people fighting the fire. Now more people have filled permanent positions, including the commission’s specialized Incident Management Team.

Drones and fire traps are now readily available to contain and fight wildfires.

Fire officials also said there are things that homeowners can do to make their homes more fire safe.

One way is to use mulch and pine bark instead of pine straw.

It’s called being “Fire Wise” and 16 out of 35 Fire Wise communities in all of South Carolina are in Horry County.

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