COPY-15,000 acres burn on SC coast

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has declared a state of emergency for the 15,000 acres of land that burned throughout Horry County, destroying 40 homes and damaging 100 more.

The fire moved north into North Myrtle Beach overnight, burning dozens of homes in its wake.

The state Emergency Management Division has deployed support assets to the scene in consultation with the Governor's Office. The state Emergency Operations Center has been activated, with assets dispatched to fight the fire including a National Guard helicopter and other personnel.

Horry County's Kelly Brosky says the fires raging throughout Horry County have consumed 15,000 acres of land, destroyed 40 homes and damaged 100 others.

"This has already proved to be a devastating event for Horry County, and it isn't over," Sanford said. "This fire is continuing to spread, and it's incredibly important that people near the affected area pay close attention to emergency announcements and news outlets about developments with this disaster. We are continuing to work actively with the state Emergency Management Division and the Forestry Commission in determining what state assets are needed, and this action we've taken will allow our administration to deploy whatever is necessary on this front. In the meantime, I'd ask that every South Carolinian join Jenny, the boys and me in offering thoughts and prayers to those affected, and for every South Carolinian to think about ways in which they can help."

The South Carolina National Guard responded to the Horry County wildfire in North Myrtle Beach, following a request from the Emergency Management Division to assist Forestry Service personnel.

"Within two-hours of notification, our four-man Blackhawk crew was in Myrtle Beach ready to support the Forestry Service," said Maj. Jay McElveen, Asst. State Army Aviation Officer.

Firefighters and emergency crews began evacuating some 2,500 North Myrtle Beach residents after flames spread to the Barefoot Resort area.

"I saw structures that were engulfed [in flames]," North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley said Thursday morning.  "I saw structures that were destroyed."

According to Horry County Schools, all North Myrtle Beach schools are closing. Parents have until 10:30 a.m. to pick up children.

After 10:30, students in grades Pre-K through 5 will be transported to Loris Elementary; students in grades 6-12 will be transported to Loris Middle School.

Students will be transported back to their base school for dismissal and departure at normal school closure.

Officials with North Myrtle Beach and Horry County Fire Rescue, as well as the South Carolina Forestry Commission, told WMBF News between 30 and 50 homes have been burned in the fires across the county.

No injuries have been reported so far.

Forestry Commission spokesman Scott Hawkins says while conditions are better than they were Wednesday and overnight, it's expected to worsen around noon. The commission has fresh fire crews out now.

Horry County Schools spokeswoman Teal Britton says all schools will operate on a normal schedule, but some buses on affected routes could be delayed.

As of 11 a.m., there were approximately 250people registered in the shelter at the Aquatics Center and 26 at the House of Blues with dozens more milling around in the parking lot area.

Horry County Fire Rescue spokesman Todd Cartner told WMBF News that flames over 150 feet tall were being reported, and that no more evacuations were in effect in Horry County, but emergency crews are on standby.

The fire began spreading to the Barefoot area around 2:30 a.m. Roads are closed down between Highway 31 and parts of Highway 9, as well as Highway 22 in all directions. Watertower Road is also closed.

The blaze that originated near Highway 90 and Woodlawn Drive destroyed one home and has jeopardized a number of others, according to Cartner.  Rescue officials on scene say they are battling flames that are "up to 150 feet tall."

Scott Hawkins with the South Carolina Forestry Commission says the fire is only 25 percent contained and has spread onto the Waterway Hills Golf Course and the first hole at the Grande Dunes Golf Club.  Smoke and emergency crews are describing the scene as "extremely dangerous."

Fire crews from all over the Grand Strand and Pee Dee have arrived on scene to help assist rescue teams from the Grand Strand.

Earlier Wednesday, the Woodlawn and Serenity Place subdivisions were evacuated as the fire came too close for comfort for a number of residents.  For those displaced, the American Red Cross has set up a temporary shelter for assistance at the Tilly Swamp Baptist Church, located at 4619 Highway 90. That shelter was closed at 7 a.m. Thursday after the Woodlawn subdivision evacuation was lifted.

The fire had died down around 11 p.m. Wednesday, and crews were hoping for a calm night. The evacuation of the Woodlawn subdivision was lifted around 11:15 p.m. Wednesday.

In addition to evacuations, the South Carolina Highway Patrol has closed down a large stretch of Highway 90 from East Cox Ferry Road to Old Reaves Ferry Road, in addition to Highway 31 from Robert Grissom Parkway to Water Tower Road.

According to WMBF StormTeam Meteorologists, the active fire season runs from January to April. South Carolina typically sees an average of 5,000 to 6,000 wildfires per year, consuming some 30,000 acres.

The largest fire in state history was in Horry County in 1976, when 30,000 acres burned.

WMBF News has a crew on the scene and will bring you the live, local, late breaking details as they become available.

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