Three members of the Horry County Fire Rescue and one North Myrtle Beach battalion chief were deployed to help battle wildfires in the west, according to officials.
The Horry County firefighters began their journey Thursday when they went to Columbia to meet with a team from the South Carolina Forestry Commission to travel to battle the Rim Fire outside Yosemite National Park, said Leslie Yancey, public information officer with Horry County Fire Rescue.
Horry County’s firefighters include Capt. Tim Rainbolt, Lt. Bryan Turner and firefighter Nick Bender, officials said.
“Horry County Fire Rescue is very proud of the Wildfire Team that we have,” said Scott Thompson, assistant chief of operations for Horry County Fire Rescue. “These three individuals represent an entire team of dedicated members of the department, whose expertise are in wildfire. Our thoughts and prayers will be with our brothers in California and we wish them a safe return.”
Rainbolt, Turner and Bender will be assisting with the wildfire operations until September 7.
At 10 a.m. Friday, North Myrtle Beach’s Fire Battalion Chief Mike Davis, a certified red card firefighter, reported to state Forestry Commission officials to be deployed to help fight the more than 51 wildfires raging west of the Rocky Mountains, said Pat Dowling, North Myrtle Beach’s public information officer.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Mike and with all who are battling the wildfires,” said North Myrtle Beach Director of Public Safety Jay Fernandez. “It is hard, very dangerous work, and we look forward to his safe return.”
Davis is expected to be deployed for at least two weeks, Dowling said.
The North Myrtle Beach’s Wildfire Response Team is comprised of nine red card certified firefighters, who are qualified to fight wildfires anywhere in the United States.
As of Friday, officials said the Rim Fire had quadrupled in size to include more than 99 square miles and was 1 percent contained. The fire began Saturday and has destroyed two homes and seven outbuildings.
While the park remains open, the blaze has caused the closure of a 4-mile stretch of State Route 120, one of three entrances into Yosemite on the west side, devastating areas that live off of park-fueled tourism.
Officials also have advised voluntary evacuations of more than a thousand other homes, several organized camps and at least two campgrounds. More homes, businesses and hotels are threatened in nearby Groveland, a community of 600 about 5 miles from the fire and 25 miles from the entrance of Yosemite.
“Usually during summer, it’s swamped with tourists, you can’t find parking downtown,” said Christina Wilkinson, who runs Groveland’s social media pages and lives in Pine Mountain Lake. “Now, the streets are empty. All we see is firefighters, emergency personnel and fire trucks.”
Park officials said the fire has not impacted the park itself, which can still be accessed via state Routes 140 and 41 from the west, as well as State Route 120 from the east side.
Yosemite Valley is clear of smoke, all accommodations and attractions are open, and campgrounds are full, said park spokesman Scott Gediman. During summer weekdays, the park gets up to 15,000 visitors.
“The fire is totally outside the park,” Gediman said. “The park’s very busy, people are here. There’s no reason that they should not come.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Contact TONYA ROOT at 444-1723 or follow her at Twitter.com/tonyaroot.