CAROLINA FOREST — Horry County police confirmed Monday that there were no fatalities in the fire that claimed 110 condominiums in 26 buildings and left about 190 people homeless in the Windsor Green development of Carolina Forest over the weekend.
“We now have all of the residents accounted for from every single one of the units that were occupied,” said Horry County police Chief Saundra Rhodes. “And we actually have the information on the units that were unoccupied now, which was a little difficult for us to get a hold to.”
Darryl Jones, director of forest protection with the S.C Forestry Commission, said investigators were able to rule out any natural causes of the fire, such as lightening, and said it was not caused by downed power lines, a campfire or a debris burn that got out of control.
“That leaves us with all of the other potential causes, which are all human,” he said. “It could have been a vehicle or piece of equipment, it could have been a discarded cigarette or someone with matches. It could have been anything.”
Jones said the area of origin is narrowed down to a 15-foot-by-15-foot area at the rear of the development about 50 to 60 feet away from a dirt road. He said that as first responders worked to get the fire under control, any evidence in the area of origin was destroyed.
“Unless we get a tip or some other report of witnesses, we know it’s human cause but that may be as far as we’re able to determine at this point,” Jones said. Anyone with information can call the state’s arson tip like at 800-92-ARSON.
Horry County fire Chief Fred Crosby said crews found a few pets roaming the development as they searched through the rubble left behind by the fire and were able to reunite them with their owners.
“There were a lot of the pets that were lost in this fire,” Crosby said. “Any of the remains we recovered … and we have those with the police department in case there’s an opportunity to at least reunite the remains with the people.”
Crosby said that wind was the major issue causing the fire to spread so quickly, combined with a number of other factors.
“This community had the pine straw, which is very flammable, the buildings were very close together, [they have] vinyl siding,” he said. “A lot of this fire moved so quick because of the intense heat. … The area that we saved, if you look at the siding on some of those buildings, the heat was so much that it melted. We had a combination of wind, direct flame and, because of the way the buildings are constructed nowadays, they burn hot and fast, so they give off a lot of radiant heat.”
Gov. Nikki Haley and other local politicians toured Windsor Green Monday afternoon, which Haley described as devastating. All though 26 buildings were lost, Haley said it could have been much worse.
“I am telling you, thank a first responder today because how they stopped that wall of fire is nothing short of heroic,” she said. “We can’t stop the winds, we can’t stop the fact that this fire started. The fact that we stopped anybody from getting hurt, that people were actually pulling people out of homes, I mean, you can’t put a price on that.”
Rhodes said that she hopes crews are able to get the fire damage cleaned up in the next few days to allow the residents who still have their homes back into the development.
The fire at Windsor Green began at around 5 p.m. Saturday, destroying 26 buildings containing 110 condominium units. It took firefighters a few hours to get the fire under control, but crews still worked Monday to make sure there were no hot spots left, causing potential for another fire to flare up, Crosby said.
He urged all who wished to help those impacted by the fire to call the local American Red Cross at 477-0020.
Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_MPrabhu.