CAROLINA FOREST — Jeanette Webb sat at the entrance to Windsor Green condominiums Sunday morning using an oxygen tank to help her breathe, waiting to be escorted a few hundred yards to her home so she could retrieve some medication.
Less than 24 hours earlier, she had been a few hundred yards away from her home watching a raging fire consume 24 of the buildings in her Carolina Forest community.
“I just sat there and watched it burn,” Webb said. “Several times I thought my building caught fire ... but it didn’t”
Webb was one of the residents who did not lose her home, but more than 100 units were completely destroyed by the blaze that officials said began as a brush fire about 5 p.m. Saturday in nearby grass, then grew and spread along the ground propelled by wind and low humidity.
Webb, who serves on board of the Windsor Green home owner’s association, said she had lobbied for to have the community remove pine straw that was on the ground between the buildings.
“They finally did it and put down sod,” she said. “Bless God that’s not where the fire started.”
Webb said a neighbor knocked on her door shortly after 5 p.m. Saturday to let her know that there was a fire in the development.
“It was moving so fast,” she said. “I was looking out the front and all I saw black smoke.”
Webb said some nearby golfers came to her aid, pulling a cart up to the back of her condo so she could quickly grab a few things and evacuate her home.
“In the scramble to get out in the dark, some important medication was left behind,” she said.
That’s why she was one of at least 50 residents who lined up along the roads near Windsor Green to get items from their home. Many residents in line said they had been waiting more than an hour to be escorted to their homes.
They were the lucky ones.
Laura Younis is one of the residents of the about 110 units in 26 buildings who no longer have a home.
“I was one of the first ones to call 911,” she said.
Younis said the fire was two streets away from where she lived on Twin Pond Court and didn’t think the fire would make it to her home. Eventually she said she could see the 25-foot-tall pine trees were on fire and decided she had to get out.
“I didn’t grab my computer,” she said. “I didn’t grab anything. I didn’t even grab my purse. I truly thought we would be back.”
Younis said one door was left open and the other had a cat door in it for her three cats to escape once the condo got too hot. On Saturday night she wasn’t able to find them but on Sunday morning she found one of her tabby cats laying across the street from her unit.
“Her feet were burnt and she had ash marks all over,” she said. “She wasn’t burnt to the skin … but you could hardly recognize her from the soot.”
Younis was still searching for her two other cats, a small orange tabby named Savannah and a large gray cat with green eyes named BK. She asks anyone with information to call her at 703-378-3788.
“The little one is just a year old and more skittish,” she said. “I’m going to say she probably didn’t attempt to get out.”
She said she knows that some of her neighbors who were not home at the time of the fire lost pets as well.
“Some people got reunited with their dogs,” she said. “I know that there’s other dogs that perished.”
Younis had friends in town visiting for a cheerleading competition whom she said she stayed with Saturday night and planned to stay with again on Sunday. After that she said she might stay in a hotel or in the extra bedroom of one of her neighbors.
“I have insurance,” she said. “A lot of people don’t. I feel really bad for them. But I know my insurance will cover long-term lodging, meals and things like that.”
Younis said she purchased the condo in 2006 and moved to Carolina Forest from Virginia full-time in 2011. She is scheduled to receive her bachelor’s degree in accounting from Coastal Carolina University in May and was planning to stay in the area, but now she’s not sure.
“I was content to stay here,” she said. “We’ll see how this plays out … Everything happens for a reason. I’m not sure what the reason is here.”
Younis was one of many Windsor Green residents who sought shelter in a variety of places, including nearby hotels, the homes of friends or family members and at Ocean Bay Middle School where the American Red Cross had set up a shelter.
The shelter was scheduled to close around 3 p.m. Sunday and move to Beach Church on George Bishop Parkway in Myrtle Beach later that evening, said Horry County spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier.
Residents and owners of properties at Windsor Green were urged to call the “accountability line” at 997-6970 to check in and let rescue workers and volunteers know they were safe.
“We ask all at Windsor Green to call and share their name and unit number and make sure all are accounted for,” Bourcier said.
On Sunday afternoon, search and rescue teams began to come through the rubble for any remains. She said not all of the units are occupied year-round, with some being rented out through the property management company, by individual owners or sitting vacant most of the year to be used as vacation homes.
“Accountability is much tougher here because of the transient community,” Bourcier said. “That’s why I urge everyone to call the accountability line and check in.”
Bourcier said it would likely take search and rescue crews a day or two to completely survey the property.
The S.C. Forestry Commission is handling the investigation into the exact cause of the fire.
Late Saturday, officials said all buildings in the complex along Britewater Court and Twin Pond Court were destroyed. All but building No. 4929 on Pond Shoals was destroyed, while building No. 4931 and half of building No. 4930 on Crab Pond Court were damaged.
A statewide Red Flag alert remained in effect Sunday and will likely stay in effect until the state has received some rain, said Scott Hawkins, spokesman for the S.C. Forestry Commission.
Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_MPrabhu.