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Fire consumes 3 Sun City homes

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Winds whip grass fire into quick conflagration

By Greg Summers and Reece Murphy

INDIAN LAND – A fire whipped by strong winds quickly destroyed three houses and damaged two others Thursday afternoon at Sun City Carolina Lakes.
An army of firefighters rushed to the scene from at least six departments, extinguishing the blaze after a little more than two hours. No residents or firefighters were injured.

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“This is our worst fear, when we build houses this close together,” said Lancaster County Fire Marshal Russell Rogers. “We don’t like it, but it happens.”
Personnel from the Indian Land and Pleasant Valley
fire stations were initially
dispatched just after 3:30 p.m. to a grass fire on Daffodil Court in the tightly packed development off U.S. 521, which has about 3,200 residences. But the blaze grew at a staggering pace.
They were soon joined by Lancaster County Fire Rescue personnel and other emergency workers, including the county’s Specialized Tactics and Resources Team, or STAR. Fire crews the city of Fort Mill and Wesley Chapel also responded.
Before any emergency crews got there, the fire engulfed Venus and Leo Florendo’s home.
Fueled by winds gusting at more than 20 mph and low humidity, the blaze swiftly spread to two adjacent houses in the 51000 block of Daffodil Court, fully involving all three structures at once.
Thick, black smoke billowed from the scene, visible along U.S. 521 as far south as Steele Hill Road, about 8 miles away.
Venus Florendo said she heard popping and glass break and looked into another room to see if it was her husband.
Their backyard was a solid wall of flames churning outside the windows, Venus said, and she screamed for Leo as smoke quickly filled their home. Both of them were able to get out.
“I just jumped and ran,” she said, while sitting on a porch across the street, being comforted by neighbors. “I didn’t even grab my phone.”
A stunned Leo Florendo sat in a nearby porch rocker, watching firefighters battle the blaze. 
As the Florenzos were talking about their ordeal, one of the other homeowners arrived. The frantic woman tried to run into the remains of her burned-out home, but an alert firefighter stopped her.
Sun City resident Dave Kissman, who lives across the street from the burned homes, shook his head.
Kissman said he heard several small explosions and saw a wall of spreading flames behind his neighbors’ homes. Kissman said he immediately grabbed a garden hose and starting wetting down his own home.
“I’m just glad it didn’t happen at night,” he said.
Rogers confirmed that no one was inside any of the homes when firefighters arrived. The first firefighter, he said, did a “quick check” to make sure.
“We’re grateful nobody was hurt and none of our firefighters were injured,” Rogers said.

Red-flag warning
Wednesday afternoon, the S.C. Forestry Commission and National Weather Service issued red-flag warnings until 7 p.m. Thursday for Lancaster, Chesterfield, McCormick, Newberry, Fairfield, Kershaw, Edgefield, Saluda, Lexington, Richland and Aiken counties.
A red-flag warning indicates that fire risk is very high and outdoor burning is difficult to control.
At press time Thursday, the cause of the Sun City fire was still unknown. Firefighters had contained the blaze, but given the conditions, there were concerns it could flare up at any time.  
“With these high winds, we just can’t be sure,” said Lancaster County Fire Rescue Director Darren Player.