Firefighters, foiled by high wind speeds and power outages, worked feverishly to contain a fire in Cherry Grove that had spread to a sixth structure shortly after 9 p.m. As of 9:20 p.m. the fire that started at 4901 N. Ocean Blvd. continued to rage as crews waited for the winds to die down.
Firefighters and National Guardsmen were using hoses connected to hydrants to wet down nearby structures to keep the fire from spreading, according to North Myrtle Beach city spokesman Pat Dowling. But efforts to tackle the blaze head-on were spoiled by the unrelenting windshear wrath of a slow-moving Hurricane Matthew.
“We don’t know what exactly started the fires today, but it is connected with the hurricane, and we responded as quickly as possible,” North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley said. “Our fire chief came and risked his own life, and other police officers and firemen came and risked their own lives, and winds were gusting at 75 mph, to make sure everyone was out of these homes.”
Dowling called the circumstances working against the North Myrtle Beach Fire Department’s attempts to battle the blaze a “perfect storm.”
“We do have a battalion chief at the scene who is monitoring the fire but the wind gusts have been up to 60-65 mph and the sustained winds have been at 45 mph,” Dowling said at 8:45 p.m.
With such high winds, he said, crews are unable to put up a ladder or bring in a ladder truck, only rated to operate in winds up to 35 mph.
“The trucks have a center of gravity that when you get in those situations it will flat out push the truck over,” Dowling said.
Another frustration for firefighters is that with wind speeds upwards of 45 mph any attempt to fight the fire with the hoses at their disposal would carry the water stream away with the wind.
“The other problem we’re having on the boulevard is that … electricity is out,” Dowling said, hindering firefighters from deploying other needed equipment.
The battalion chief is “working with the National Weather Service to determine what the sustained winds are and when the gusts will go down,” he said. “When that happens – they think it could be in about 20-25 minutes – they will roll.”
“We’re told that after 9 p.m., they (the wind speeds) will drop and they will operate but until then we can’t take the trucks out on the road,” Dowling said. “If a fire truck turns over, nobody wins because no other fires will be fought that day.”
The fire started in a multi-story multiplex around 8 p.m.
“When this one starting burning about two hours ago I phoned it in and they said they knew about it and since then we’ve been watching one after the other,” said Brian Curtis, an out-of-towner who was staying nearby. “It could have been saved. Obviously they can’t get here, if they could they would.”
Crews watched in frustration as the fire raged in a section of North Myrtle Beach that was plagued with storm surge from Hurricane Matthew on Saturday.
“It’s very frustrating for them because they’re trained and their desire is to put fires out as soon as possible but in this instance they can’t,” Dowling said. “But to my knowledge there has been no loss of life or injuries and that’s a good thing.”
Folks in the area were appreciative of the authorities’ efforts.
“We’re very thankful that God’s spared our lives and that we’re here and we’re just praying for as little loss of property as possible,” said Angel Jordan, who lives nearby.
Emily Weaver, 843-444-1722, @TSNEmily