One year after the immense blaze that devastated 110 condominiums and left 190 people homeless, Windsor Green residents gathered to celebrate the rebirth of the Carolina Forest neighborhood.
More than 100 people gathered Friday for food and fellowship at the Windsor Green clubhouse, three months after all 26 buildings destroyed by the fire were fully rebuilt.
The fire at Windsor Green began at around 5 p.m. March 16, 2013, destroying 26 buildings containing 110 condominium units. It took firefighters a few hours to get the fire under control, but crews worked for several days after that to make sure there were no hot spots left, which may have had the potential for another fire to flare up.
Residents were later let into the subdivision to rummage through the ashes for personal belongings, including Lois and Lemoyne Krone, whose condo was diminished to rubble.
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“People were so good to us – they gave us so many things,” said Lois, 84. “I think I got about five or six sewing machines.”
The couple is happy with their new lodgings, which is located on the same land as their previous home of 16 years. They made a few adjustments during construction, including widening doors and opting for crown molding, but are ready to live out their remaining years in the quiet neighborhood.
“We moved in 16 years ago, and it was fun,” Lemoyne Krone said. “Now we’re back again and everything is new – everything but us.”
“It’s just a second beginning here,” Lois Krone chimed in.
A&I Fire and Water Restoration was put in charge of reconstruction and restoration, and the company handed back keys to the residents on Dec. 20, 2013. The company’s goal was to finish everything before the holidays so residents could spend Christmas somewhere familiar.
“Overall, it was a smooth process,” said Todd Setzer, director of business development for A&I. “A year later, they can’t believe 26 buildings are already done.
“Thing are back to where they were a year ago.”
Frank Ferraro was the first to witness the fire and called 911, though confusion about the location sent his call to another jurisdiction, leading to a three-minute delay in response time.
Call times from the county’s 911 center show the first call about fire came in at 5:08 p.m., but the person taking the call was confused about the location and transferred the call to the city of Myrtle Beach at 5:11 p.m.
Initial reports given to Horry County Council were that the first call on the fire was received just before 5:12 p.m., reporting a brush fire at 213 Wando River Road in the Ashley Park subdivision, which is separated from the Windsor Green condominium development by power lines.
The first engine, from Carolina Forest, arrived less than five minutes after that call – just before 5:17 p.m.
The fiasco all started when Ferraro took his chocolate Labrador on a walk before heading to Myrtle Beach to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. All of a sudden, Ferraro’s dog “started acting weird,” which caused him to check out the nearby buildings.
“All of a sudden there were flames,” Ferraro said. “I never saw a fire before; I just wanted to get everybody out.”
The blaze took over the 26 buildings quickly, but all the residents made it out alive.
“It just spread in minutes,” Ferraro said.
Deputy’s ultimate sacrifice
Deputy Sheriff Timothy Causey, who worked security for three nights during the devastating fire, died after a two-monthslong battle at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
Causey was originally hospitalized at McLeod Regional Medical Center in Florence for smoke inhalation and acute respiratory failure shortly after the fire, and was later transferred to MUSC. While there, Causey was diagnosed with the H1N1 virus, a strain of influenza virus often referred to as swine flu.
Doctors put the deputy into a medically induced coma, all while his wife, Donna Causey, watched on.
“The one thing that sticks out is when he was sick in the hospital, and on the ventilator, he said he was trying not to leave me,” Causey said, holding back tears. “He knew he made a career-ending decision, but he was trying not to leave me.”
Causey, a 25-year law enforcement veteran, worked about two years for the Horry County Sheriff’s Office in the warrant division. He was married to Donna for 28 years and they have two daughters, 18 and 22.
The Causeys originally met when their schools consolidated; she was in fifth grade, and he was in eighth grade. The two started dating when Donna Causey was in college, and married in 1986 at Nichols Methodist Church, in Nichols.
“We were just friends for a while and it just kind of progressed from there...” Donna Causey said.
Donna Causey recalls her husband leaving little notes around the house expressing his love, or calling her just to check up. Everyone in Tim Causey’s life felt his compassion and respect, even those he was putting in handcuffs.
“People he worked with, people he arrested, everybody liked him,” Donna Causey said.
A few days after her husband’s death, Donna Causey received a call from a man who Tim had arrested a few years earlier, wanting to thank Tim for putting him in jail – the officer’s kindness had “saved his life,” Donna Causey said.
During the family’s stay at the hospital, the Horry County Sheriff’s Department held a fundraiser for the Causey family’s bills. Since then, Causey has received help from loved ones, the community and even people she doesn’t know.
“I’ve had support since day one in the hospital from the sheriff’s office, from the community and from my church,” Donna Causey said.
The outpouring of support from people who don’t know Donna Causey, but know of her story, has been overwhelming, she said. She has received a blanket with Tim’s portrait emblazoned on it, checks from fellow widows and even little handicrafts from children.
Friday afternoon, Horry County Sheriff Sgt. Jeff Benton presented Donna Causey with a letter from a schoolteacher in Twinsburg, Ohio, who also lost her husband in the line of duty. In the envelope was a glittery, silver star made by one of her students, in honor of the late Timothy Causey.
“This sort of thing, it stirs compassion in people’s hearts,” Donna Causey said.
Lt. Steve Cox supervised Tim for about 10 years, but never realized the deputy sheriff’s prankster side until family and friends reminisced after his funeral.
“I think he kept his law enforcement side and his family side separate,” Cox said, noting that all the memories were tinged with love and laughter. “He was all professional, but once he took off his uniform, he was a little prankster.”
Tim’s sister, Gail Causey, described her older brother as “mischievous – 100 percent boy.”
“He tormented me a bunch, but he always had a big heart,” Gail Causey said through tears. “The family, all three of us siblings, always say we lost the best of us.”
Gail Causey remembers staying in the hospital with Tim’s oldest daughter, who was about to leave the room. Though heavily medicated because of the pain, Gail said her brother grabbed his daughter’s hand and squeezed it several times.
“He didn’t want her to go out – he wanted her to know he loved her,” Gail Causey said, wiping away tears. “I’ll never forget that.”
The Causey family’s loss has caused emotional strain on everyone close to Tim, but Donna Causey knows her husband is now in a better place. Sometimes the doubt creeps in that something else, anything else, could have been done to save her husband, but in the end she knows she did everything possible.
“Every choice I made was to try and help him get better,” Donna Causey said.
Twenty-eight years later, her love for “Timmy” still stands.
“In 28 years of marriage, I never had a regret.”
‘I won’t give up’
About 80 pets were lost to the fire and many others displaced, including Samantha, Gina O’Dell’s black cat. O’Dell and her husband Bobby their rebuilt unit to a close friend, and now reside in the back of Windsor Green. O’Dell looks for Samantha every day.
“I won’t give up,” O’Dell said. “The thing that kills me is I don’t know if someone took her and just doesn’t know I’m looking for her.”
O’Dell posts fliers around Carolina Forest with pictures of Samantha, and places listings on Craigslist as often as possible. Some residents claim they’ve seen a black cat in the area, but Samantha has yet to return home.
“Until somebody tells me she’s dead, I won’t give up,” O’Dell said.
Recovery and improvement
After the devastation of the March fire left many homeless and the fire department busied for several days, Horry County leaders passed a fire tax – or a six-mill raise – that will give Carolina Forest three full-time firefighters at the substation on Carolina Forest Boulevard by the end of March.
Sprinkler systems were installed in the rebuilt units, and several Carolina Forest neighborhoods, including Windsor Green, are working toward Firewise certification, a process communities follow to safeguard against wildfires.
“The improvements that have come out of this fire don’t only affect you, but also your community,” Horry County Councilman Mark Lazarus said to the crowd during the ceremony on Friday.
“A lot of times, good things come out of the bad.”
So far, five neighborhoods have achieved Firewise status – Parkland at The Legends, Waterford Plantation, Walker Woods, Avalon and The Farm.
Many residents have moved back into their rebuilt units, but some have chosen to sell their homes or move to other areas. Life in Windsor Green has mostly settled into the same routine as before the fire, but residents, county leaders and service personnel still remember the toll of March 16.
But, as Horry County Fire Chief Fred Crosby said to the crowd Friday, hard times build character.
“You should all be proud of the kind of character you guys have to rebound and rebuild from this.”