SUMTER, SC — High winds triggered several fires across Sumter County on Wednesday, taxing local fire departments, burning down one structure and causing delays on roads throughout the area.
Capt. Brian Horton of the Sumter Fire Department said the combination of 40-mile-per-hour winds blowing through the area ahead of a severe weather storm front and the dry ground conditions from the lack of rain recently resulted in fires breaking out throughout the county. One fire Wednesday afternoon, near U.S. 15 just north of Browntown Road, destroyed a 100-yard-long chicken house being used by its owners for storage.
Mel Brown, whose family owned the property, said the fire caused an estimated $100,000 in damage to the chicken house and about $75,000 in additional damage to the contents.
Firefighters think the fire was caused by the high winds reinvigorating embers from a controlled burn near the property conducted by Brown the day before.
Brown said he had checked the line of the previous day's controlled burn several times Tuesday and Wednesday but had not seen any smoke warranting concern.
"You've got to be careful. I did everything within the law, I took every precaution, and that wasn't good enough," Brown said.
"At least nobody was hurt," said John Brown, adding that he had several items, including a vintage pickup truck, destroyed in the fire.
"It burned like a match," Mel Brown said, adding that the family had a similar situation happen back in the early '70s as well. Because of his earlier experience, Mel Brown said he knew the chicken house probably burned quickly.
"In fact, I probably could have seen this thing catch on fire, and the fire department probably wouldn't have been able to get here in time to put it out. I doubt it," Mel Brown said.
Horton said about 25 firefighters from both Sumter and Lee counties, as well as from the South Carolina Forestry Commission, responded to the chicken house fire just south of the Lee County border. This was in addition to dozens of other firefighters responding to several other fires in the county around the same time, Horton said.
At least three other fires, including one near Loring Mill Road in Sumter, one near the Sumter-Kershaw county line and another along U.S. 401 near McCoy Road, struck the area about the same time Wednesday afternoon. While there was no property damage caused by these fires, Horton said each one charred several acres and were most likely caused by power lines affected by the high winds.
And while Wednesday night's storm that came through Sumter County could add some relief to the dry conditions, Horton said he was concerned it would not be enough to temper the current dangers.
"The problem is how much is coming and how fast," Horton said Wednesday afternoon. "Just because we get a little bit of rain doesn't mean it's going to drop the fire danger. If we just get a little bit of rain, it's going to dry out pretty quickly."