15,000 acres burn on SC coast

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has declared a state of emergency for the 15,000 acres of land that burned throughout Horry County.

The fire moved north into North Myrtle Beach overnight, burning dozens of homes in its wake.

The state Emergency Management Division has deployed support assets to the scene in consultation with the Governor's Office. The state Emergency Operations Center has been activated, with assets dispatched to fight the fire including a National Guard helicopter and other personnel.

"This has already proved to be a devastating event for Horry County, and it isn't over," Sanford said. "This fire is continuing to spread, and it's incredibly important that people near the affected area pay close attention to emergency announcements and news outlets about developments with this disaster. We are continuing to work actively with the state Emergency Management Division and the Forestry Commission in determining what state assets are needed, and this action we've taken will allow our administration to deploy whatever is necessary on this front. In the meantime, I'd ask that every South Carolinian join Jenny, the boys and me in offering thoughts and prayers to those affected, and for every South Carolinian to think about ways in which they can help."

The South Carolina National Guard responded to the Horry County wildfire in North Myrtle Beach, following a request from the Emergency Management Division to assist Forestry Service personnel.

"Within two-hours of notification, our four-man Blackhawk crew was in Myrtle Beach ready to support the Forestry Service," said Maj. Jay McElveen, Asst. State Army Aviation Officer.

A number of roads are closed due to the fires and smoke in the area:

  • Hwy 31 is closed from the Grissom Parkway to Hwy 9
  • Hwy 22 is closed from Hwy 90 into Myrtle Beach
  • Hwy 17 and Hwy 90 are both open however citizens are advised to be wary of thick smoke

Firefighters and emergency crews began evacuating some 2,500 North Myrtle Beach residents after flames spread to the Barefoot Resort area and consumed 7,000 to 8,000 or more acres of land.

Emergency management has set up an official information line for those affected by the fire and concerned citizens at 843-915-5150. The line will provide evacuation status information and will let residents know when evacuation orders have been lifted.

According to Horry County Schools, all North Myrtle Beach schools are closing. Parents have until 10:30 a.m. to pick up children.

After 10:30, students in grades Pre-K through 5 will be transported to Loris Elementary; students in grades 6-12 will be transported to Loris Middle School.

Students will be transported back to their base school for dismissal and departure at normal school closure.

Officials with North Myrtle Beach and Horry County Fire Rescue, as well as the South Carolina Forestry Commission, told WMBF News between 30 and 50 homes have been burned in the fires across the county.

No injuries have been reported so far.

Forestry Commission spokesman Scott Hawkins says while conditions are better than they were Wednesday and overnight, it's expected to worsen around noon. The commission has fresh fire crews out now, and estimates more than 8,000 acres have burned.

Horry County Schools spokeswoman Teal Britton says all schools will operate on a normal schedule, but some buses on affected routes could be delayed.

North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley will be holding a press briefing at 9 a.m. Thursday in the back parking lot of the House of Blues, which overlooks Barefoot Resort. The Mayor will report updated information on the fire situation that has been occurring in North Myrtle Beach since the early morning hours.

WMBF News and www.wmbfnews.com will hold the press conference LIVE.

There are three Red Cross shelters open in North Myrtle Beach for anyone evacuated from their homes:

  • North Myrtle Beach Aquatics & Fitness Center (Red Cross)
    1100 Second Ave. South
  • House of Blues (Red Cross)
    4640 Highway 17
  • Barefoot Church (Red Cross)
    701 Main St.
  • Thirsty Turtle (Pet Friendly)
    9668 N. Kings Hwy.

Citizens with special medical needs can contact the South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control at 915-8804 regarding Special Medical Needs shelters.

Pets are not allowed in the Red Cross shelters, however, arrangements are being made with Horry County Humane Society to bring in a mobile trailer with individual cages to house pets.

As of 7 a.m., there were approximately 200 people registered in the shelter at the Aquatics Center and 26 at the House of Blues with dozens more milling around in the parking lot area.

Horry County Fire Rescue spokesman Todd Cartner told WMBF News that flames over 150 feet tall were being reported, and that no more evacuations were in effect in Horry County, but emergency crews are on standby.

The fire began spreading to the Barefoot area around 2:30 a.m. Roads are closed down between Highway 31 and parts of Highway 9, as well as Highway 22 in all directions. Watertower Road is also closed.

Power is out at Alta Surf Apartments off River Oaks Drive. Horry County Fire Rescue Crews are on the scene, and say people are leaving the apartment area should exercise caution as traffic lights are out at the intersection of International Drive and River Oaks Drive.

The blaze that originated near Highway 90 and Woodlawn Drive destroyed one home and has jeopardized a number of others, according to Cartner.

Scott Hawkins with the South Carolina Forestry Commission says the fire is only 25 percent contained and has spread onto the Waterway Hills Golf Course and the first hole at the Grande Dunes Golf Club.  Smoke and emergency crews are describing the scene as "extremely dangerous."

Fire crews from all over the Grand Strand and Pee Dee have arrived on scene to help assist rescue teams from the Grand Strand.

Earlier Wednesday, the Woodlawn and Serenity Place subdivisions were evacuated as the fire came too close for comfort for a number of residents.  For those displaced, the American Red Cross has set up a temporary shelter for assistance at the Tilly Swamp Baptist Church, located at 4619 Highway 90. That shelter was closed at 7 a.m. Thursday after the Woodlawn subdivision evacuation was lifted.

The fire had died down around 11 p.m. Wednesday, and crews were hoping for a calm night. The evacuation of the Woodlawn subdivision was lifted around 11:15 p.m. Wednesday.

In addition to evacuations, the South Carolina Highway Patrol has closed down a large stretch of Highway 90 from East Cox Ferry Road to Old Reaves Ferry Road, in addition to Highway 31 from Robert Grissom Parkway to Water Tower Road.

According to WMBF StormTeam Meteorologists, the active fire season runs from January to April. South Carolina typically sees an average of 5,000 to 6,000 wildfires per year, consuming some 30,000 acres.

The largest fire in state history was in Horry County in 1976, when 30,000 acres burned.

WMBF News has a crew on the scene and will bring you the live, local, late breaking details as they become available.

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