Sue Handy of Cherry Grove evacuated as soon as the governor told her to, and with Hurricane Matthew lumbering to shore, she worried about heavy rains and winds as she left her home behind. She never thought about a fire.
But when a fire broke out in condo units across the street Handy watched in horror on Facebook as the gusty winds carried the blaze to her side of the road and the firefighters on scene were unable to stop it.
“This was the last thing on my mind when I evacuated,” Handy said. “I was worried about water coming in. I was worried about wind damage. … I never dreamed I’d have a fire 10 feet from my home.”
The storm surge from Hurricane Matthew made parts of Cherry Grove inaccessible and the high wind speeds and power outages fueled a perfect storm — in the middle of a storm — that would claim five structures.
The fire inched closer to Handy’s house as the live feed came to an end, but before the video stopped Handy saw someone dousing her home with water.
Although the North Myrtle Beach Fire Department was limited in how it could extinguish the fire, the force worked with the Army National Guard to have two high-water rescue vehicles transport firefighters with hoses to the scene.
Firefighters and Guardsmen worked feverishly to contain the fire in Cherry Grove by wetting down nearby structures with accessible hydrants. 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.
But efforts to tackle the blaze head-on were spoiled by the unrelenting windshear wrath of a slow-moving Hurricane Matthew.
With sustained winds at 45 mph and wind gusts up to 75 mph, North Myrtle Beach city spokesman Pat Dowling said, crews were unable to put up a ladder or bring in a ladder truck, only rated to operate in winds up to 40 mph. A power outage limited the equipment crews could use.
The battalion chief worked with the National Weather Service to determine when the winds would die down enough for the trucks to roll in.
“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 on Saturday. “Our fire chief came and risked his own life, and other police officers and firemen came and risked their own lives … to make sure everyone was out of these homes.”
Handy said the most of the units that perished were rentals, and no one was injured in the fire.
“It’s in much better condition than I ever imagined,” she said, adding that she and her family returned home from Aberdeen Sunday morning, grateful to see the house still standing. “My place is livable.”
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.
Megan Tomasic contributed to this report.