Emergency officials panel discusses changes since Highway 31 fire

Grand Strand

Ten years ago next week is the anniversary of the Highway 31 fire. Emergency management officials have been active in preparing for and preventing fires since 2009.

“I just felt that after 10 years we should know how equipped our firefighters are today with resources to fight a fire if it happens again,” said Neal Witkin, who sponsored Wednesday night’s 10 year review at North Myrtle Beach City Hall.

Witkin says he had a close friend who lived in Barefoot Resort at the time of the fire in 2009.

“He was in his pajamas evacuated in the Bi-Lo parking lot on Route 17 and he had 10 minutes to get out of his house at 2 o’clock in the morning after being notified by his neighbors,” he said. “So, I remember that night very well.”

Since the fire, 16 communities in Horry County became certified Firewise communities. Firewise helps people learn about possible fire hazards in their yards around their homes.

North Myrtle Beach Fire and Horry County Fire Rescue trained their firefighters for wood and brush fire response.

“Something very simple as firefighters in the big, heavy track gear you see us wear everyday, our wild land team have lightweight gear because they’re trodding through the woods, they’re doing lots of work in places where they couldn’t wear that gear everyday,” said Horry County Fire Chief Joseph Tanner.

The South Carolina Forestry Commission and Horry County Fire Rescue say they’ve added equipment, including eight brush trucks and drones.

“We took the drone and could fly and figure out exactly where the hotspot was and where they had the fire was, so the Forestry didn’t have to go try to find it,” Tanner said. “We could pinpoint it, so they could take their tractor straight in at the fire line.”

Drake Carroll with the South Carolina Forestry Commission says there’s a misconception that the Highway 31 fire was a wall of fire. He says embers dropping from the fire onto neighborhood straw beds jumpstarted it.

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