CHERRY GROVE, SC (WBTW) – Firefighters in South Carolina battled huge flames at oceanside condos Saturday.
24-Hour News 8 sister station WBTW crews arrived at the fire around 7:30 p.m. and initially observed one condo on fire. As of 9:45 p.m., five condos were on fire and one was already burned to the ground.
News13 was able to make contact with the owner of one of the condos. The owner, who lives out of state, says they were made aware of the fire at 9 p.m. when a neighbor in Cherry Grove called her family.
When the owner called the fire department, she says they did not answer her call. She called police next who said they had received 39 calls and it was impossible for them to get anyone to the scene.
Firemen are not sure how the fire began, but there is a possibility that a nearby power line could be the cause.
Officials were not yet able to confirm whether or not anyone was in the condos at the time.
National Guardsmen were also on the scene of the fire.
Below is a statement released Sunday morning by the City of North Myrtle Beach Public Information Officer Pat Dowling:
It is standard practice that in conditions where there are high sustained winds, coupled with higher wind gusts, fire trucks cannot be used to respond to fires.
At the time of the initial second row structure fire in the Cherry Grove section of North Myrtle Beach on October 8, sustained wind speeds were 55-60 mph in North Myrtle Beach with frequent wind gusts of up to 70 mph.
When the initial fire was first reported, due to the high winds the fire department could not respond with fire trucks, but a battalion chief was sent to the scene to ensure that no one was in the structure. He also remained at the fire scene until hurricane conditions worsened further and forced a return to the station.
As the high winds continued, burning debris from the initial structure fire went airborne, crossed Ocean Boulevard and landed on the roof or roofs of a structure or structures on the first row. Ultimately, five multi-story structures were on fire along the first row.
As this situation was evolving, fire department leadership worked with the National Guard to have the Guard’s high-water rescue vehicle transport North Myrtle Beach firefighters with hoses to the fire scene. The firefighters attached their hoses directly to available fire hydrants and began to soak down structures adjacent to the fires in an effort to stop the spread of the fire to those structures. When a second National Guard vehicle became available after its involvement in an unrelated medical transport, it was also used to transport additional firefighters to the fire scene. This was a reasoned plan enacted and achieved by leadership in conjunction with firefighters.
Somewhat before 9:00 p.m. on October 8 the National Weather Service, with which the department had been working, notified fire department leadership that sustained and gusting wind speeds within the northern part of North Myrtle Beach had decreased to levels where it appeared that the risk was acceptable to activate the fire trucks, and the trucks then began to roll to the fire scene. The firefighters brought the fires under control and put them out. At around 1:00 AM, while fighting the fires, sustained wind speeds and wind gusts accelerated again, and the ladders on the ladder trucks had to come down. By that time, however, the fires were under control.
This was certainly a highly frustrating experience for our firefighters and for their leadership. All concerned are trained to fight fires. All concerned have a deeply felt desire to serve and protect life and property. But there are those times when conditions simply do not allow a fire department to respond with all of the tools normally available to it, and this was one of them. We appreciate the innovation the North Myrtle Beach Fire Department showed in the face of this reality, and we thank the National Guard for their valued support.
There may also be another perspective to this story— this incident is a real example of why people should heed an evacuation order. Had these structures been occupied, it is possible that injuries could have occurred. In this instance, people had evacuated.