At least 2,500 residents were evacuated near Myrtle Beach last week as wildfire invaded their neighborhoods. Photo: South Carolina Forestry Commission This newsletter warned in February of the continuing wildfire risk that exists for many coastal communities ("In Florida, Wildfire Risk Looms," by Ted Cushman). Last week, fire struck in South Carolina. Its target: the coastal city of Myrtle Beach. Sparked accidentally by an unauthorized trash fire on Wednesday, April 22, the blaze quickly grew to 20,000 acres in the pine woods and brush of coastal South Carolina, destroying at least 70 homes. By Thursday evening, The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had authorized federal funds to help the state fight the fire. For official information on the fire, check the South Carolina Forestry Commission website.
The fire destroyed at least 70 homes. With little or no time to prepare, many homeowners lost everything. Photo: South Carolina Forestry Commission For some homeowners forced to flee their homes in the dead of night, the fire has been a life-changing tragedy. CBS News covers the story here and here. Handyman Tori Lewis and his wife Candace were among the fortunate ones: Their home in the Barefoot Hills Resort in North Myrtle Beach was spared, while four houses on their street burned to the ground. Lewis' truck and tools, however, were destroyed. Fortunately, his handyman work is only part of his livelihood — Lewis is also a fitness instructor at a gym in the nearby town of Little River. The McDowell News covers that story here (" Couple Flees Myrtle Beach Fire," by Mike Conley). Volunteer support has been overwhelming, emergency relief agencies report. Charity organization warehouses filled up with goods virtually overnight, and more than 600 rooms have been pledged for evacuee shelter. The Myrtle Beach Sun-News has that story here. As of April 28th, fire managers had announced that the fire was 100% contained, having burned over 75,000 acres. However, they said, it was not "controlled" — because hot spots remain to be thoroughly extinguished, and in the peaty, organic natural soils of the coastal ecosystem, fire can smolder underground for months and flame to life unexpectedly. Officials expect to monitor the area over an extended period. And as an editorial in the Charleston Post and Courier notes, surviving the crisis is not the same as escaping all danger. Wildfire is a fact of nature, and when homes and communities are built in the "wildland urban interface" (WUI) zone, they face a continual hazard from the inevitable occurrence of wildfire. The Highway 31 WUI fire has been South Carolina's worst in 30 years; it will not be the state's last. For information on how to live with the risk of wildfire, go to www.firewise.org