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Tinderbox

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Wildfire kicking up early in state

By Greg Summers

Wildfire season in South Carolina normally starts in late winter and early spring.
Given the weather conditions, officials here are keeping a close eye on things, especially after a 15-acre pasture off Pardue Road burned Wednesday about 1 p.m.
Firefighters from Shiloh-Zion and Camp Creek volunteer fire departments, Lancaster County Fire Service and a S.C. Forestry Commission plow worked for about two hours to bring the blaze under control.
About the same time, firefighters in the southern portion of the county were bringing a small roadside blaze under control.
“We’ve not had a rash of them, but we are starting to worry,” said Darren Player, deputy director of Lancaster County Fire Service.
Player has his fingers crossed that what happened in the Pee Dee last weekend isn’t headed this way.
Between Jan. 28 and last Sunday, S.C. Forestry Commission crews responded to 114 calls which burned more than 540 acres, 334 of which were forests.
According to a release issued by the state forestry commission, just about every fire department in Florence County responded to a brush fire last Saturday.
While firefighters contained all the fires, SCFC Forest Protection Chief Darryl Jones said the rash of fires was not expected.
This time of year, the forestry commission staff is usually training, inspecting burn sites and promoting wildfire prevention across the Palmetto State.
However, the 100-plus fire calls put all of that on hold.
“It was an early wake up call for us as an agency,” Jones said. “This part of the United States is expected to see an active fire season, with drier conditions and warmer weather.
Much of the state is in a drought already.
Jones attributes the conditions to the La Nina weather pattern.
Jones said when a La Nina is in place (warmer temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean), the Southeast is usually warmer and drier in the spring. Cold fronts that come through with low relative humidity and higher  winds create the perfect firestorm.
That’s what happened Wednesday afternoon on Pardue Road.
“Something like that can walk across a broom straw patch in no time at all,” said Lanier Owens  of the S.C. State Guard, who was at the scene directing traffic after smoke drifted across the road, creating a traffic hazard.
“I’m just glad it rained last night,” said Billy Lloyd of Lancaster County Fire Service.         
Dial (800) 705-8610 before burning
It is against the law to burn household garbage and trash, tires, chemicals, plastics and building materials anywhere in South Carolina.
By law, anyone wishing to conduct an outdoor burn in South Carolina must notify the forestry commission by phone. Each county has its own toll-free number for notifications, said Player. The number for Lancaster County is (800) 705-8610. Be sure to leave your name, telephone number, 911 street address and specific location of the burn.
The number to report a forest fire in South Carolina is (800) 777-3473.
Player said you must also clear the area around the burn site, provide an adequate water supply and equipment to keep the fire from spreading and stay with it until it is totally extinguished.
“That keeps a state fire marshal from issuing you a fine,” Player said. “If you start a fire that gets out of hand, you are still responsible for the property damage it causes. The best tip we can give is if it’s windy, just don’t burn.”
Player said property owners in Lancaster County are asked to take one additional step by notifying the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office at (803) 283-3388.
“That way, county dispatchers are in the loop and won’t page out five fire departments to a controlled burn,” Player said.

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