CONWAY — There are two words that Leigh Wood, senior planner with Horry County, would like to see as part of the natural resources section of the Planning Commission’s comprehensive plan for future development: defensible space.
Horry County is known for its incredible land mass – in fact, it’s the largest demographic county east of the Mississippi River. Its natural beauty ranges from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to dense forest areas inland. People have moved to Horry County for a variety of reasons and one of the reasons, undoubtedly, is the beautiful wooded areas and their proximity to newly developed homes.
But the combination of those forested areas to residential areas can prove to be hazardous, as residents of the county for the past five years or so have learned. Those who lived here can still remember the 2009 S.C. 31 wildfire and, earlier this year, the Windsor Green fire that sprang from a wildfire and destroyed 26 condominium buildings in that community. Add in relative humidity, coastal winds, waxy vegetation and Carolina bays, which are round- or oval-shaped depressions in the terrain and containing wildfires can prove to be dangerous and costly.
That’s why Wood and the county want to create defensible space, or a buffer if you will, around future residential areas near adjacent wooded areas, especially if it is not owned or controlled by those in the residential area.
“That’s been a concern that a lot of neighborhoods have... that they don’t have control of the land that they’re adjacent to,” Wood said.
One way areas have begun to protect themselves from wildfires is by becoming a Firewise community. Seven of the state’s 20 Firewise communities are in Horry County, which is the most for one county in the state. What the Firewise program does is it establishes fire protection benchmarks people and communities must do to reduce the danger of losses from wildfires. Things such as not using pine stray or other combustible mulch within three feet of a house may be required for a Firewise certification.
“The entire county is really working on a collaborative effort to pursue additional Firewise community designations,” Wood said. “It’s a way for a neighborhood to come together an reduce their fire vulnerability.”
In fact, nine communities are in the process of exploring implementation of the program. Those communities are Oakmont at River Oaks, The Bluffs on the Waterway, Waterway Village, Windsor Green, Turnberry Park at the Legends, Parkland at the Legends, Gleneagles at the Legends, Briarwood, Indigo Creek, Woodlake Village, and Harbour Towne.
“Firewise really helps provide some recommendations for those neighborhoods,” she said.
Communities can request help from Firewise officials, who can go in and assess a community’s potential risk hazards, as well as set up a community wildfire protection plan. Officials make recommendations on what the community can do as a whole, including the creation of defensible space between homes and any woodlands bordering the property.
Wood said with the beauty of Horry County’s landscape comes great responsibility and awareness, and she hopes mandating defensible space in future development and increased participation in Firewise will help make the county safer.
“A lot of people think of the open space and the natural places as being areas to conserve, and definitely we need to conserve,” she said, “but we need not forget what the hazards that are adjacent to us.”
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_jrodriguez.