In April 2009, the most destructive wildfire in South Carolina history burned almost 20,000 acres adjacent to Myrtle Beach. This "Highway 31 fire" as it was coined, was the topic of featured presenter Darryl Jones' session at Backyards & Beyond today.
The fire exhibited extreme fire behavior, long-range spotting, and resulted in two entrapments. The initial fire destroyed 76 homes and significantly damaged 97 additional homes in a 28 hour period. Major highways into the Myrtle Beach area were closed, schools shut down and tourism was interrupted during peak travel season. Darryl detailed the efforts to control the fire, manage the evacuation and the difficulties found in this peat fuel type of the region.
Limited resources prevented the teams from fighting the fire itself, and instead the worked on fuel breaks and trying to protect housing developments in the initial path of the fire. Golf course communities on the edges of the fire used their course sprinklers which helped keep the ember storms from igniting more of the area. Rapidly changing winds and unique weather conditions caused this fire to threaten a community within minutes, and despite the evacuation going well, this area was where most of the losses were. In the end, they fought the fire from April 22 through September before it completely burned out. A lot of outside support was offered to help from federal, state and local agencies, the Red Cross, DOT, police, etc which was critical.
In 2013, there were only 20 days of the entire year that South Carolina Forestry did not fight wildfire. This statistic as well as the large fire highlighted in Darryl's talk demonstrate how much of a myth it is to say that wildfire is only a western issue. This fire became a great educational tool as well to teach communities about Firewise and reducing risk. We hope everyone can learn from some of his lessons learned, no matter where they live.