Nearly six dozen families in northern Pickens County have been asked to leave their homes while firefighters conduct a large-scale burnout operation Thursday to stop the spread of a growing wildfire.
So far there have been no injuries or damaged structures resulting from the 3,283-acre wildfire that was started last week by an errant campfire, S.C. Forestry Commission spokesman Russell Hubright said Wednesday.
Thursday’s burnout will cover about 2,000 acres and “will put a tremendous amount of additional smoke in the air in northern Pickens County,” Hubright said.
“Motorists traveling in the area are urged to use caution and avoid SC 11, and people with respiratory conditions are encouraged to stay indoors,” he said.
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An area north of SC 11 that is close to the burnout operation, from Back Park Road to South Saluda Road and north to Table Rock Reservoir, will be evacuated Thursday. Residents are being told to prepare to be away from their homes for 72 hours, according to Pickens County Emergency Management.
Local fire departments were going door-to-door Wednesday to tell residents about the evacuation, Hubright said.
Hubright said the burnout will allow firefighters to get ahead of a cold front this weekend that will bring high winds and drier air — which could make firefighting conditions worse.
“It’s mainly going to be a low-intensity burn,” Hubright said of the planned burnout. “With 15 to 20 mph winds on Saturday, we can’t wait for that to impact our fire.”
The Pinnacle fire is the largest mountain fire ever recorded in South Carolina, Hubright said.
The most destructive wildfire ever recorded in South Carolina was the Highway 31 fire of 2009 near Myrtle Beach, which burned 19,130 acres, caused 4,000 evacuations, destroyed 76 homes and caused an estimated $25 million in damage, he said.
Pickens County Council on Wednesday declared a state of emergency that makes the county eligible for federal funds and additional firefighters to combat the fire, said Denise Kwiatek, Pickens Emergency Management director.
Kwiatek said she's grateful for the food and refreshments that local businesses and residents have donated for the firefighters.
The fire has grown from 2,312 acres on Monday to 3,283 acres Wednesday, but it went from 25 percent contained Monday to 35 percent contained Wednesday, Hubright said.
There was no estimate on when the blaze might be brought fully under control.
On Wednesday, many of the 170 firefighters at Pinnacle built a breakline on the east side of the fire and north of Highway 11, while National Guard helicopters dropped water on hot spots between Pinnacle Mountain and Table Rock, Hubright said.
Officials said it’s still too early to say how much the wildfire has hurt tourism in Pickens County.
Dawn Dawson-House of the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism said the primary indicator would be cancellations, which can take weeks and months to report and be compiled.
“I’m not even sure this incident is large enough to create a blip on the radar screen to track the indicators,” she said.