Myrtle Beach area fire danger increases, investigation into Carolina Forest fire continues

troot@thesunnews.comMarch 19, 2013 

The danger for wildfires remains high this week as dry, cool conditions return to the Myrtle Beach area, according to forecasters with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C., who issued a hazardous weather outlook on the fire danger Tuesday.

Relative humidity is expected to drop each afternoon through Friday and even with the recent rains, the drier conditions will make the fire danger increase as things dry out, forecasters said. Gusty northwest winds up to 25 mph will develop and temperatures will drop Wednesday and Thursday nights to near freezing.

As the weather worsens for wildfires, a burning ban remains in effect for Horry County, said Leslie Yancey with Horry County Fire Rescue. Residents are not allowed to conduct any outdoor burning.

The burning ban has been in effect since after Saturday’s wildfire that destroyed 26 condominium buildings in Windsor Green in Carolina Forest, near U.S. 501, officials said. That blaze began in a 15-foot by 15-foot area at the rear of the development, about 50 feet to 60 feet away from a dirt road.

No one was killed, but about 190 people were left homeless and several of their pets were killed in the blaze.

The investigation continued Tuesday into what caused that fire, said Scott Hawkins, spokesman for S.C. Forestry Commission. Natural causes were ruled out in the fire, and officials are looking into other causes such as a spark from a vehicle or piece of equipment, a discarded cigarette or someone with matches.

Officials asked people to call the state arson tip line at 1-800-92-ARSON to report any information they have about the blaze.

“The arson hotline is manned 24/7 by [State Law Enforcement Division]. They take all kinds of arson calls, not just for wildfire. They notify us when they get calls that fall under our jurisdiction. We have not, to my knowledge, been forwarded any regarding Horry County,” Hawkins said Tuesday. “Our investigators are following up on some specific leads, of which I cannot comment on without compromising their investigation.”

Investigators also are looking into two suspicious fires that occurred about two hours apart on Sunday in the Avalon community, officials said.

“There is no reason to suspect the Avalon fires are related to the Windsor Green fire,” Hawkins said. “We are actively investigating all of them.”

As the investigation continued dozens of community groups, civic organizations, residents and the Red Cross collected donations and coordinated efforts to help the fire victims.

Horry County police Sgt. Robert Kegler said that the hotline number established by county officials for the Windsor Green fire victims is being shut down. Victims of the fire can call A&I Fire and Water Restoration at 236-2015 or 236-2047 for all inquiries concerning access to the site and property retrieval.

Contact TONYA ROOT at 444-1723 or follow her at Twitter.com/tonyaroot.

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