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High winds fuel brush fire

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Storm system skirts along county

By Reece Murphy

Firefighters with six different departments responded to a brush fire on Ponderosa Road outside Lancaster on Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 30.

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Whipped by winds in advance of a large thunderstorm system that crossed the region Wednesday evening, the fire spread rapidly, scorching five to six acres of property on both sides of the road.

Led by the McDonald Green Volunteer Fire Department, and with the aid of S.C. Forestry Commission team bulldozers, firefighters overwhelmed the blaze soon after arriving, and prevented it from spreading to dry scrubland and woods surrounding homes in the area.

Though the fire threatened at least two homes in the 1400 block, structural damage was limited to an outbuilding that burned.

Ponderosa Road resident John Robinson said he got a call about the fire at work about 1:52 p.m. Robinson said he rushed home and found the fire burning grass on one side of the road.

“You get a sense of urgency real quick,” said Robinson, a former McDonald Green volunteer firefighter. “I went to the house to get a couple of cans of water and by the time I got back, it had jumped the road and was threatening my neighbor’s home.”

Robinson said he rushed back to the house and returned with his bulldozer to begin cutting a firebreak around the home of his neighbor who was out of town.

He said he was relieved when firefighters arrived.

“At least nothing was burned and nobody was hurt,” Robinson said. “This grass will grow back.”

While forestry personnel were unable to be reached for confirmation, the fire appeared to have originated with a burn pile visible from the road with threads of scorched grass clearly leading away from it in the direction of the fire’s spread.

Lancaster County Fire Marshall Stephen Blackwelder was unable to confirm whether or not the homeowner was ticketed for unauthorized burning.

He did, however, remind residents that it is unlawful in South Carolina to burn anything other than natural yard debris such as leaves, limbs and brush.

Even then, residents are required to call the state forestry commission’s notification line before burning yard debris, or face stiffer penalties if the fire gets out of control and burns neighboring property, Blackwelder said.

Blackwelder said residents should never leave open fires unattended.

“My advice would be to be very careful when you burn and pay attention to the weather conditions,” Blackwelder said. “Weather conditions are changing rapidly these days and even if it’s rained a tenth of an inch, with 10 to 20 mph. winds, it doesn’t take long to dry out whatever moisture there is in the ground.

Blackwelder said if you do insist on burning yard debris, make sure there’s a clearing around the fire site and that you have a water source on hand to extinguish any embers that might escape.

McDonald Green, Bell Town, Gooches Crossroads, Elgin, Rich Hill and Lancaster fire departments responded to the Ponderosa Road fire. Lancaster County emergency personnel were also on scene to provide support.

To notify the S.C. Forestry Commission of your intentions to burn yard debris, call 1-800-705-8609

Weather effects

Though nowhere near as hard hit as other areas, severe weather played havoc in Lancaster County on Wednesday afternoon and overnight as several storms rolled over the region driven by cold air above and unseasonably warm weather.

The National Weather Service issued warnings throughout the afternoon and overnight ranging from a Tornado Watch to Severe Thunderstorm Warnings.

Starting in the early afternoon, wind ahead of the storm stoked fires such as the one on Ponderosa Road.

Blackwelder attributed two other small brush fires Wednesday to power lines downed by wind, one in Tradesville that occurred while firefighters were at Ponderosa Road, and another in the Fork Hill Community near the intersection of Flat Creek Road (S.C. 903) and Musket Road. Both fires were brought under control quickly.

Blackwelder said S.C. Department of Transportation crews responded to several locations across the county to clear trees that had blown over in the roadway, including one on Harrisburg Road and another on Pageland Highway (S.C. 9).

The most serious of the incidents occurred around 1:30 a.m. when a man driving his pickup truck along Cedar Creek Road (S.C. 97) struck a tree that had fallen in the area near the boat landing.

Though the accident severely damaged his truck, the man suffered only minor injuries.

According to Duke Energy, the storm caused scattered outages across Lancaster County early Thursday morning that affected as many as 900 customers.

The same storm front, which ran from the Northeast all the way down to Georgia, caused extensive flooding in several communities in western North Carolina, driving scores of residents to emergency shelters.

Tornados spawned by the severe weather killed a man in Tennessee who died when a tree fell onto a shed in which he’d taken shelter. Another man in Georgia died when a tree fell over on his mobile home, striking him in bed.

 

 Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151.