MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. Firefighters from multiple agencies continue to battle a wildfire that prompted evacuations in the Carolina Forest area, but the tide is turning in their favor.
Theyve got a handle on it, said Horry County spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier.
An evacuation order that had applied to about 50 homes has been lifted, Bourcier said, and roads in the area were opening up again.
But firefighters remain on the scene and a command post will stay staffed through the night. Fire officials are also posting signs throughout the area warning residents and visitors of smoke, Bourcier said.
Meanwhile, at least two firefighters were also injured when a Fair Bluff tanker truck responding to the fire flipped on U.S. 501, shutting down multiple lanes of traffic. Both were transported to the hospital, but no their condition was unvailable.
The fire, which began early this afternoon, is between U.S. 501 and S.C. 544 and north of S.C. 31, near the Legends golf course. By late evening it had engulfed about 200 acres.
Shiftnig winds throughout the day made the blaze hard to control.
Winds are making it more difficult, Bourcier said. Every time it shifts, the fire changes directions, too.
She also said the S.C. Forestry Commission will investigate the cause and that authorities will maintain an overnight presence out there.
Earlier in the day, Assistant Chief Justin Gibbins, with Horry County Fire Rescue, said Myrtle Ridge Road, West Perry Road and Legends Drive were closed to traffic. Residents were being allowed to leave, but nobody was being allowed into those areas. Just after 4:30 p.m., homes off Myrtle Ridge Road, including the Myrtle Trace South and Castlewood neighborhoods, were evacuated as a precaution.
Scott Hawkins, with the S.C. Forestry Commission, said the fire had slowed considerably at 5 p.m., about an hour and a half after the first forestry units arrived on scene.
Forestry officials were first dispatched at 2:30 p.m. when a planned burn off West Perry road got out of control.
Hawkins said initially the fire was an estimated 3 to 4 acres and moving quickly. At 5 p.m., that size had multiplied to nearly 50 acres, but the blaze was an estimated 60 percent to 70 percent contained, Hawkins said. It has grown since, as crews fight the wind. Firefighters found a dirt road near Rhine Court off Myrtle Ridge Road that helped create a fire break. Five forestry units remained on scene, with multiple units from Horry County Fire Rescue.
Just after 4 p.m., a church across from Rockdale Street, the Joseph B. Bethea United Methodist congregation, opened the doors of its fellowship hall, so affected local residents would have access to shelter, water and air conditioning.
Walking out of the church building, Michael Beck, church trustee, said the decision to open up the hall was made five minutes earlier.
Standing in a knit shirt, shorts and sneakers, Beck said he was on the premises doing some work in the church and found out about the emergency from the various fire trucks whizzing by on the road.
The church reached out a few years ago to welcome the community in another major blaze, Beck said, and the congregation was happy to do so again on Saturday.
In a situation like this, he said, people know the church as a sanctuary. They feel like the church is a safe place.
Later in the day, evacuees were moved to Beach Church, near the former Freestyle Music Park, where they were welcomed to stay overnight, before the lifting of the evacuation order.
Kristy Hallmark was in the middle of moving into her new house in the Ashford neighborhood, which she closed on Friday. She said that after seeing the smoke, she picked up a friend to go home with her.
By the time Hallmark and her friend made it to the house, the smoke looked thicker. She said her mother and sister also were listening to updates on police scanners, and words about evacuations from the fire area under consideration caught their ears.
I was scared it might jump the road, Hallmark said.
She said she grabbed her 18-month-old son and her friend, and evacuated voluntarily.
The smoke was getting really bad, Hallmark said.
Beth Romano and a friend had lunched nearby at a restaurant and were driving back home, toward the smoke.
Romano said they had seen the smoke billowing, and as they got closer, they saw the flames.
They got to their house and picked up their dachshund and bichon frise dogs.
Although they were not ordered to evacuate, Romano said, remembering May 2009, I was here for the Barefoot fires. Were leaving.
Romano said, when leaving the area on West Perry Road, We saw a lot of people sitting on lawns, like spectators.
Marie Rimm, spokeswoman for the Horry County Fire Relief Fund, said the group had been on scene for a couple of hours supplying things such as water to the firefighters. Rimm said the Chick fil-A on U.S. 501, which was acting as a command station for firefighters, gave sandwiches and drinks to the firefighters.
As of 4:10 p.m., the mutual aid call reached a wide radius. In a field on the west side of U.S. 501, across from Tanger Outlets, various fire trucks were being amassed, and the vehicles were from departments including Midway in Pawleys Island, and Marion Rural.
One West Perry resident, who did not want his name published, sat with his wife in their vehicle in the church parking lot. They wondered when they would be able to go home again. He also said his dog was still in their back yard, and he hoped the pooch would plunge into their pool if the fire or smoke spread.
The plume of smoke from the fire was visible from the International Drive bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway, north of Myrtle Beach.
Hawkins said the area near the Legends golf course is prone to fire which is why so many units were dispatched.
In June 2002, a 1,800-acre fire prompted the evacuation of 40 homes in the Legends subdivision.
An official at the golf course said the Parklands Course, closest to the fire, has been evacuated. The course is assisting emergency crews with clearing all players from the greens.
Forestry officials were in Carolina Forest last month when a woods fire smoldered for a week at the end of Tuckahoe Road in the Walkers Woods subdivision off Carolina Forest Boulevard.