Lancaster County not immune from weekend wildfires

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By Reece Murphy

South Carolina suffered a rash of wildfires across the state last weekend, three of which occurred in Lancaster County.
In all, South Carolina firefighters and Forestry Commission personnel battled 131 wildfires over the weekend.
Officials attributed the state’s dangerous fire conditions to a combination of low humidity, warm temperatures and wind gusts of up to 30 mph, conditions that prompted the Forestry Commission to issue a Red Flag Fire Alert.
Among the largest wildfires was one Saturday, March 16, in Horry County at Windsor Green in the Carolina Forest subdivision. The wildfire burned an estimated 110 homes and 26 apartment buildings.
Though no one was injured, dozens of homeowners reportedly lost pets in the blaze.
The Red Cross provided shelter and more than 400 meals to residents burned out of their homes, according to the Associated Press.
Darryl Jones, forest protection chief for the state Forestry Commission, said investigators determined the fire was started by someone within 50 feet of a home.
Emergency responders, however, trampled over the area, Jones said, so authorities will never know if the fire was intentionally set or started by accident.
Lancaster County was not immune, with three wildfires Saturday that burned an estimated 13 acres in all.
None of the fires here resulted in injuries or loss of property.
Lancaster County Fire Marshall Stephen Blackwelder was unavailable to provide details on the fires as of press time Tuesday.
According to a Forestry Commission summary of the wildfires, the first of Lancaster County’s wildfires Saturday was reported around 1:49 p.m. in Kershaw.
The fire, which burned approximately a half acre of open land in the area of Horton Rollins Road, was reportedly started accidentally by children, the summary said.
The second fire, reported around 4:10 p.m. in Indian Land, burned approximately 4 acres of forested property off Charlotte Highway in the area of Laurel Hill Road. The cause of the fire was listed in the summary as a “power line.”
The final, and largest, wildfire occurred around 8 p.m. Saturday in the 3700 block of Van Wyck Road. The fire, also listed as having started with a power line, burned an estimated nine acres of forested land.
Wildfire conditions
Conditions across the state prompted Forestry Commission officials to declare a Red Flag Fire Alert last weekend warning that the danger of wildfire is increasing and that outdoor burning could become difficult to control. The alerts ask residents to voluntarily refrain from outdoor burning.
The alert was lifted Monday, March 18.
The state averages approximately 3,000 wildfires calls a year, most of which occur during wildfire season. Wildfire season runs from late winter to early spring with the most dangerous month traditionally being March.
Lancaster County Emergency Services Deputy Director Darren Player said as dry as conditions were Saturday, he’s amazed county firefighters didn’t fight more fires.
“I guess people used good judgement,” Player said. “It’s getting near spring time, and it was nice and sunny Saturday, so this is the time of year people like to get out and start their gardening.
“A lot of them burn off (yard debris),” he said. “So we’re blessed we didn’t have that many fires.”
Lancaster County burn ordinances follow state ordinances, which prohibit burning anything other than natural yard debris such as leaves, limbs or brush.
Even then, residents are required to call the state forestry commission’s notification line before burning, or face stiff penalties if the fire gets out of control and burns neighboring property.
Player said that when residents call the notification line, they are given all the pertinent information about any kind of fire hazards, burn warnings or other information they need to know about burning, including safety information.
To notify the S.C. Forestry Commission of your intentions to burn, call the Lancaster County number at 1-800 705-8610.
For more information about South Carolina wildfires, visit the S.C. Forestry Commission web page at www.state.sc.us/forest/refwild.htm.

Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151