SC wildfire 98 percent contained; damage hits $25M

Monday, April 27, 2009 6:24 AM
Last updated 4:16 PM
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NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - A wildfire that has consumed dozens of square miles along South Carolina's heavily populated coast was 98 percent contained and caused at least $25 million damage, officials said Monday.

The fire — which started Wednesday east of Conway and was one of the state's largest in years — consumed almost 30 square miles and destroyed 70 homes, most of them in a resort development in North Myrtle Beach. No injuries were reported.

Firefighters were finally getting a break from the weather Monday, with 45 percent humidity and winds shifting to the southeast.

"We're getting southeast winds and not a lot of it today. That's good and it's bringing some moisture," said Russell Hubright of the South Carolina Forestry Commission.

Last week, dry westerly winds of up to 30 mph pushed the blaze across highways and into the resort area.

About 80 firefighters were mopping up at midday Monday, and 11 of them would be allowed to go home by day's end, Hubright said. There were 100 firefighters on scene during the weekend.

Hubright expected complete containment of the fire sometime Tuesday.

But the commission warned there was a chance for the fire to rekindle in some areas as trees dropping brown leaves can provide fresh fuel on the forest floor.

A section of South Carolina 31, the Carolina Bays Parkway, had been closed to traffic because of heavy smoke since late Wednesday. It reopened Monday morning.

Several other roads were closed for a time early Monday, and some schools delayed opening because of a combination of smoke from the fire and thick morning fog, The Sun News of Myrtle Beach reported.

The relative humidity Monday was higher than at any time since the fire started. There's even a chance of rain by week's end.

"I'll believe that when I see it," Hubright said.

Allison Dean Love of the South Carolina Insurance News Service said Monday that damages are estimated at $25 million and expected to climb as people continue to file claims and adjusters assess the damage.

She said it "quite likely will increase substantially," noting that more than 100 claims have been filed for everything from destroyed homes to burned plants and trees used for landscaping.

Love said many checks written Friday provided temporary living expenses and helped start the recovery, with larger amounts expected later.


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