Highway 31 Fire
The costliest and most destructive fire in state history
Fire Reported: Wednesday afternoon, April 22
Weather on April 22: Temperature – 71, Humidity 24%, Winds West 17mph with gusts to 30mph, poor dispersion.
Fuels: Pine overstory with heavy understory of palmetto, gallberry, wax myrtles and other waxy vegetation located in Carolina Bays. Organic soils make fire difficult to control and dangerous – burns under firelines, equipment bogs down, numerous snags, holes, trees falling with no root system.
Fire History in Area: 1955 – Bombing Range Fire burned 10,162 acres, 1967 – Buist Tract Fire burned 6,000 acres, 1976 – Clear Pond Fire burned 30,000 acres (largest in terms of size in the state’s recorded history). In the past 10 years we have responded to fires at Legends, Long Bay, Walker Woods, Avalon, and Black Creek Plantation – all in the same area.
Fire Cause: Escaped debris burn.
Law Enforcement: Two tickets were issued on Thursday by SCFC Law Enforcement Officers to a Conway man who was burning household garbage at his residence in the Woodlawn subdivision. He was cited for Failure to Notify the Forestry Commission (48-35-10 – up to $262.50 fine) and Allowing Fire to Spread to Lands of Another (16-11-180 – up to $470.00).
Burning Ban put in effect April 23 and Lifted April 27th due to fire conditions and limited Commission resources available to respond to wildfires around the state.
Total Acres Burned: 19,130, (most destructive in terms of loss in state recorded history). Forested woodland damage estimated at $17million
Homes Destroyed: 76 Estimated damage totaling $25 million
Homes Damaged: 97
Evacuations: As many as 4,000 at the height of the fire.
Incident Command Post: Unified command established with Horry County Fire & Rescue. Unified Incident Command Post was located at the Horry County Solid Waste Facility on Highway 90 about 7 miles east of Conway.
Incident Commanders: Mike Bozzo (SCFC), K. Bean (Horry Co.), Tom Barstow (N. Myrtle Beach)
Chronology of the Fire: SCForestry Commission and Horry Fire & Rescue responded to the fire at 12:24pm on Wednesday afternoon. Fire behavior was extreme with rapid rates of spread. It made a 6-mile run that afternoon to Highway 31 and another run early Thursday morning across Highway 22 towards the Barefoot Resort area, where it caused the most damage and loss of homes.
SCFC’s Type 2 IMT was released Thursday morning (April 30) and all remaining mop-up and observation was handed back over to the Pee Dee Region. Due to rain received on May 4th all personnel were released from the fire May 5th. We will continue to monitor the area and if it dries out and begins to show activity again, resources will be sent as needed.
Map of the fire
Land ownership map
Public information officer (PIO) daily notes
During the night, a wind shift caused the fire to cross Highway 22, destroying many homes. Evacuation of 2500 people was ordered during the night as well.
Progress was made establishing firelines. In addition, more resources were ordered and arrived at the fire. Burnout operations were conducted and additional dozer work was done to establish and reinforce existing firelines. The night shift continued this work.
The emphasis of Thursday’s efforts will be to establish and reinforce firelines, working toward additional containment.
We plan to retain the resources currently dedicated to this fire through the weekend, and conduct additional work tonight and throughout tomorrow to improve and extend our control lines. If the situation continues to improve, we will begin to release resources as appropriate.
Because of the resources committed to the Highway 31 Fire, Forestry Commission personnel across the state are having to maintain a higher than normal level of readiness. Many of these dedicated firefighters are being required to cover a much larger response area than normal and the agency appreciates their dedication to our mission of protecting lives, property, and the forest resource of South Carolina.
There was one spot over this afternoon that added acreage, and burnouts we conducted to reinforce firebreaks account for the rest of the acreage.
Unburned fuel inside the firebreaks continues to burn intensely, and we will continue to see flare-ups and a lot of smoke.
Aerial resources (5 UH-60 Blackhawks from the SC & NC Air National Guard and the USFS air tanker) were used to cool hot spots near the firebreaks and helped establish and reinforce fireline as burnouts were conducted.
Winds are gusting over the fire, and some gusts are expected tomorrow as a result of the sea breeze.
The fire perimeter will be verified tomorrow with GPS
We continue to work with Horry County Fire & Rescue, Horry County Emergency Management, and SCEMD. A unified command is still in effect, based at the incident command post on Hwy 90.
Tonight, and for the next few nights, we expect an inversion and potential for heavy concentrations of fog/smoke during the early morning hours. This may create public safety concerns on roadways.
While significant progress was achieved in the last 24 hours, there is still potential for significant runs from the interior of the burn to threaten the established control lines, and for spot fires outside of the current fire perimeter.
Fire is still 80 % contained, with an estimated acreage of 20,500. Overnight firefighting was productive and fire behavior was relatively calm.
The fire perimeter will be measured today with GPS and an exact acreage will be determined.
Work is being done to improve control lines and burn out unburned fuel.
There was one breakout last night near Long Bay Road. As of this morning, SCFC and fire department crews are still working to contain it. Acreage burned was minor.
Weather conditions forecast for today: High temperature 86, surface winds from the SW at 10, gusting to 20 later in the day. Low relative humidity 38%. Transport wind will be from the south, moving smoke away from beachfront areas.
Fire today is threatening a water treatment plant east of Long Bay Road.
Area of greatest concern again is along Hwy 90, especially east of Hwy 22.
There is still considerable unburned fuel in interior portions of the fire. In addition, as dead leaves and pine needles fall, a new fuel bed will be created and there is a chance that some areas will re-burn.
80 Forestry Commission personnel are still on duty on the fire. Total personnel, including fire service, National Guard and emergency operations totals over 500.
Five National Guard Blackhawk helicopters with water buckets continue to assist ground crews.
Damage totals as of today: 76 residences destroyed, 7 with major damage, 89 with minor damage. Total value of structures lost and damaged is estimated at $15.4 million. Significant loss of timber resources has occurred as well.
A fire on Sandy Island, north of Georgetown, has burned about 400 acres. Personnel from the SC Forestry Commission, the Nature Conservancy and the US Fish & Wildlife Service are working to contain the fire. No structures threatened at present, although there are permanent and historic homes on the island.
Mop-up phase has already begun in most areas of the fire. Mop-up activity is especially noticeable along Hwy 90. (see map at www.trees.sc.gov). Mop-up involves crews patrolling the fire area inside the lines and attacking with water/foam isolated spots (often stumpholes and standing trees) which continue to burn. This is a very laborious process, involving turning burning vegetation over with hand tools and soaking with water. The intent of this process is to cool off smoldering debris so embers do not blow across the fire line. This operation takes a long time and requires a significant amount of resources, but is essential to prevent the fire’s spread. It will constitute the most time spent on this fire by the South Carolina Forestry Commission, possibly extending the effort by weeks.
Most of the work overnight involved reinforcing plowed lines in Divisions A and B.
Black Creek subdivision today– crews are adding firebreaks and reinforcing existing ones today.
Divisions C and D – crews continued overnight to use water from SCFC brush trucks with pumps and fire department trucks for water-intensive fire attack. This will continue to be the case today.
Division E– relatively quiet with the occasional hot spot attended to.
Fire managers are concerned about sight-seers and ATV enthusiasts touring burned areas. Burn-out, mop-up, and, possibly, aerial drops continue making all areas of the Hwy 31 Fire hazardous. Sight-seers exploring the burned area pose a danger to themselves and firefighters.
Firefighters continue to report encounters with bears, snakes and other wildlife which may be “on the move” due to the fire.
Media tour of mop-up work will leave the SC Forestry Commission’s Incident Command Post (1886 Hwy 90) at noon today.
Statewide Burning Ban remains in effect.
There is potential for reburn on this fire. After a fire burns an area, trees drop their brown leaves and needles leaving a fresh layer of fuel on the ground. Sparks from smoldering material can ignite this fuel and cause a fire to reburn through the already burned area. These fires can be quite intense and have the potential to jump established control lines. Fire crews continue to identify these areas and strengthen control lines where needed.
Hot spots continue to burn in the Long Bay/Hwy 31 area and around the fire origin. Water will be used today to cool these areas. This will be a cooperative effort between the SC Forestry Commission (SCFC) and Horry County Fire Rescue.
Overnight SCFC crews worked closely with Horry County Fire Rescue patrolling and reinforcing plowed control lines.
The SCFC has begun reducing the number of personnel on the fire. 20 people have been released thus far and 11 more are scheduled to leave this afternoon.
Today (all divisions) – crews will continue to mop up, patrol and reinforce control lines.
Divisions C and D – crews are focusing on securing houses by reinforcing plow lines behind houses in case of a re-burn.
Poor visibility in the area due to smoke and morning fog is expected to continue for some time.
Stump holes, snags, tractors, helicopter drops and smoke still pose many dangers for residents venturing into the fire area. Fire managers continue to encourage people to stay out of the burned area.
Weather generally has cooperated, but fog idled most overnight SCFC personnel.
Work is focused in the areas of Long Bay and Water Tower roads today. Divisions C and D have a few hot spots.
SCFC has begun to demobilize crews. Several will remain for mop-up and fire line reinforcement as necessary.
Aerial drops have ceased. Reconnaissance flights by fixed-wing aircraft will continue to be a daily part of operations.
Mop-up continues in all areas of the fire. This process is expected to continue for several weeks and involves heavy equipment operated by men and women whose visibility could be limited by their working environment. These firefighters should be given a wide berth.
The burned area will continue to produce heat, smoke and flare-ups for some time to come. Smoke and hotspots in burned out areas could be an issue until autumn if rainfall this summer is scarce. Stump holes, smoldering soil, and snags (dead trees which are still standing) should be considered extremely dangerous to anyone on foot or operating motor vehicles of any kind.
Smoke on roads will persist prompting road closures as needed. Unnecessary travel should be avoided at night and early morning hours. Heavy equipment will be in operation, avoid excessive speeds at all times in all areas where the fire has burned.
Re-burns are possible among fuels which weren’t entirely burned the first time the fire moved through. For example, if a dead tree casts its needles over peat which is still smoldering, a re-burn is possible.
Controlled vs. Contained: The fire is 100% contained, but will not be labeled “controlled” until there is no longer any heat produced anywhere inside the line.
Statewide burning lifted.