Changes made and lessons learned in ten years since the Highway 31 wildfire

Grand Strand
hwy 31 fire_1555968918859.jpg.jpg

Today, April 22, 2019, marks ten years since the start of the Highway 31 wildfire in Horry County. 

It’s the second largest fire in state history, burning more than 19,000 acres. 

No lives were lost, but 76 homes were destroyed and 97 others damaged. 

Monday, different emergency response agencies met up in the Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve area off International Drive to talk about changes made since the fire.

“Out of 28 years, it’s the most aggressive fire I’ve ever seen.”

Mike Ney, now the Pee Dee Regional Forester for the forestry commission, helped fight the 31 fire for three weeks.

He said it’s a misconception that the 31 fire was a wall of fire that burned the Barefoot Landing houses down. 

“It was the embers and the brands that landed in the pine straw and around those houses that actually caught fire,” Ney said, “And that’s what actually destroyed most of those houses.”

Since 2009, the forestry commission has better technology and equipment. New bulldozers and tractors are enclosed to keep smoke and heat out– unlike what was used during 31. 

“It let’s them really focus on the task at hand versus trying to breathe and multi-task and everything else,” Graceanna Cooper, spokesperson for SCFC, said. 

The forestry commission let News13’s Maggie Lorenz ride Monday in a “fire track,” which is a big truck with huge, thick tires that can plow through mud and water. It’s a new addition within the last few years. 

Horry County Fire Rescue also upped its equipment game. The department now has eight brush trucks instead of three and got a new drone. 

“We have a heat sensor on this one, which allows us to very quickly get up and the sky and see exactly where the hotspots and the fires are,” Tony Casey, spokesperson for HCFR said. 

The forestry commission has filled more full-time positions since 2009 allowing them to grow their specialized incident management team. 

“Since then we’ve brought on younger employees and stepped them into trainee roles and really made our IMT team grow,” Cooper said, “And since then they’ve been out of multiple incidents, not just fires, but hurricanes and all hazard incidents since then.” 

Horry County and the forestry commission helped develop a course at the State Fire Academy that trains structure firefighters to also fight wildfires. 

There are things you at home can do to make sure your home is fire safe. The forestry commission said the Firewise initiative helps people learn about possible fire hazards in their yards around their homes.

Since the fire, 16 communities in Horry County became certified Firewise communities.

You can contact SCFC or your local fire department to come to your home or neighborhood and asses your fire risk and tell you how to better protect your property. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending stories