Myrtle beach fire 2009
© Randall Hill - Sun NewsA house on Swift Street in Barefoot Resort lies in ruin after a brush fire several homes in the community early Thursday morning.

A study in contrasts, a pristine slate house on Woodlawn Drive stands in front of a landscape of charred trees and blackened soil.

The burned soil sits within 15 feet of the home's neat garden, and firefighters huddle near a truck watching the smoldering plumes, vigilant in case they should flare.

With a total of 76 homes destroyed in a wildfire that began Wednesday afternoon, emergency workers focused Saturday on continued containment and preventing refires.

At about 8 p.m. Saturday about 85 percent of the blaze was contained, said spokesman Scott Hawkins, with the state forestry commission. Most major roads except S.C. 31 have been reopened and all shelters have closed.

The reported number of acres damaged fell from about 20,500 acres to 19,600 acres Saturday due to better access to geographic informations system mapping data, Hawkins said.

"Fortunately we expect the winds to be calm tonight," Hawkins said. "We're expecting single-digit wind speed."

South Carolina Forestry Commission workers put in fire breaks behind many of the homes and around communities already ravaged by the wildfires.

Forestry Commission Technician Nelson Wilson used his bulldozer to create a 50-foot-wide lane clear of debris, which serves as fuel for fires. The break Wilson was working on will help to protect The Farms subdivision, which sits within the Carolina Forest community.

The building of homes so close to forested areas removes the buffer between homes and wildfire-prone areas, he said.

"Everybody wants to go out and live in the woods," Wilson said. "You just have to accept the risk that goes with it."

The home on the 2100 block of Woodlawn Drive was an example of an area susceptible to flare-ups.

At about 2:50 p.m. Blackhawk helicopters with the S.C. Army National Guard dumped several large sacks filled with 750 gallons of water in the neighborhood after a flare-up. Nelson was also deployed.

"We just keep getting flare-ups here and there, and we are keeping an eye," said Horry County Fire Rescue spokesman Todd Cartner.

He said crews will be keeping an eye on the homes along S.C. 90 overnight to make sure the emanating smoke does not result in more fire.

Crews were also able to prevent the fire on the Carolina bays from spreading to further to the Grand Strand Water and Sewer treatment plant. A fire break has been put in, Hawkins said.

Still on alert

With dry weather and droughtlike conditions expected for at least the next 10 days, state and officials said Saturday they are prepared for another wildfire of the same magnitude.

The S.C. Forestry Commission has issued a statewide burning ban to help deter residents from starting fires. And fire departments from across the state have been put on standby if another wildfire breaks out in the area.

Myrtle beach fire 2009
© Randall Hill - Sun NewsTaken from the top floor of the Marina Inn at Grande Dunes, photo shows the fire glowing the sky red near the upscale development Grande Dunes on Wednesday evening in Myrtle Beach.
"All of our regions are operating at a high level of readiness," said Holly Welch of the forestry commission. "This is our fire season, March and April, so we're ready."

The area is expected to stay in a warm, dry weather pattern for the foreseeable future, according to Tim Armstrong, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington N.C.

There is a slight chance of a shower or thunderstorm from Wednesday night until Friday as a cold front drops through the area, Armstrong said. But the chance of rain is only 10 percent to 20 percent.

"We just don't see much changing," Armstrong said.

Rainfall totals in the Myrtle Beach area are already 5 inches below normal, he said.

Parts of South Carolina, as far east as Cheraw in Chesterfield County, received up to an inch of rain on Friday.

Forestry Commission and Horry County Fire Rescue officials said they are approaching the next week on a day-by-day basis.

All wardens and foresters with the Forestry Commission are required to remain within a 10-minute drive of their equipment, Welch said.

Cartner said 28 other fire agencies from the state are battling the blaze here, and others are ready, he said.

"At any given time they can be deployed," Cartner said.

That has allowed local rescue officials in Horry County, Myrtle Beach, Conway, Murrells Inlet-Garden City Beach, Surfside Beach and Loris to properly man their stations and prepare for any potential wildfires.

Cartner said most of the task forces set up to fight the blazes in certain areas are represented by two or three Horry County Fire Rescue members. There were nearly 20 task forces battling the blazes on Friday, Cartner said.

Donations pour in

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation donated $100,000 on Saturday to the Coastal South Carolina Chapter of the American Red Cross to assist victims of this week's wildfire.

The contribution will provide food and water to firefighters and give temporary shelter to those with limited transportation.

"Knight has a long-standing relationship with Myrtle Beach, through good and bad times," said Susan Patterson, Knight Foundation's program director for Myrtle Beach. "Right now, our community is rallying. Knight Foundation is here to support this joint effort."

Angela Nicholas, chief executive officer of the local Red Cross agency, said her organization has been a "good partner" with the Knight Foundation for many years.

"Obviously this is a very generous donation and a tremendous support to this disaster relief effort," Nicholas said. "This will mean a great deal in support our efforts as we provide the necessary emergency services to our community."

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes excellence in journalism worldwide and invests in 26 U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers.

The Sun News is one of the 26 newspapers previously owned by the Knight brothers.

United Way of Horry County has activated a 211 telephone number statewide for all donations and referrals regarding the Horry County Wildfires. The line is open 24 hours a day. Out of state residents can dial 877-648-9900 and will be transferred to an S.C. 211 representative.

Donations of clothing are not needed at this time.