S.C. Blaze Destroy Homes, Prompts Evacuation of Dozens

February 14, 2008

A blaze that destroyed several homes in South Carolina and led to the evacuation of 60 others started as a trash fire that was initially doused by two fire agencies, but reignited a day later into a wind-whipped 240-acre wildfire, authorities said.

Horry County firefighters saturated the yard where the fire started Saturday and the state Forestry Commission dug a fire break around the property. But the windy, dry weather Sunday caused the fire to flare back up, said Darryl Jones, the Forestry Commission’s chief of forest protection.

Normally, fire officials would check on the site routinely, but they were fighting dozens of other fires that sparked over the weekend, Jones said.

“I’m sure something could have been done different, but I’m pretty confident those firefighters assessed the situation and they were pretty sure it was out,” Jones said. “I believe it’s just the effects of the drought. Every fire that we have is taking more people. Because of the drought, we are having to do more work to make sure that it’s out.”

Underground gas lines and sprinkler systems also can stop firefighters from plowing residential yards to create breaks that can stop blazes from spreading, Jones said.

At least five homes and a business were destroyed by the fire near Conway, but no injuries were reported, authorities said.

The Forestry Commission said the blaze was started when a trash fire at a vacant mobile home went out of control.

Steve Matern, 31, was charged Tuesday with allowing an illegal debris burn to escape. He faces a maximum fine of $465 and 30 days in jail, forestry officials said.

A telephone number for Matern was not in service Tuesday.

Gary Stokes’ home was one of about 60 briefly evacuated by that fire Sunday afternoon. Firefighters remained in the area Tuesday, watching for patches of smoldering land.

Stokes didn’t fault fire officials.

“Maybe someone should have taken better care of the first fire,” Stokes said. “I just hope it never happens again. I don’t want to be run out of here again.”

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