A rapidly moving fire along near Charleston-Georgetown county line has grown to 1,100 acres in size and has the potential to double in size again, authorities said.
South Carolina Forestry Commission spokesman Scott Hawkins said the blaze has claimed at least two structures and there are reports of downed utility lines in the area. Scanner communications noted reports that fire may have spread as far as Steed Creek Road.
Multiple emergency agency have sent crews to the area to battle the blaze, and authorities have called for a voluntary evacuation in the South Santee/McClellanville area. The evacuation is said to affect a three-mile area. Residents have also been leaving the Germantown community.
“Everything we’ve got, we are throwing at it,” Hawkins said.
Radio scanner chatter also indicated officials were concerned about the historic Hampton Plantation that is part of a state park near the fire area. The plantation, on Rutledge Road, about 9 miles north of McClellanville, has been home to several prominent South Carolina families and is an example of how the rice industry once flourished in that part of the state.
As of 4 p.m., crews estimated the blaze was about 200 acres in size with 25- to 30-foot flames. By 5:45 p.m., the blaze had about doubled in size.
“It looks like it’s burning pretty good,” Hawkins said. “Hopefully, they will have a line around it soon.”
The fire has shut down both lanes of traffic on U.S. Highway 17 in the area, authorities said. Traffic is being turned around and re-routed. The fire is said to be burning on both sides of the highway.
Firefighters from Charleston County, Georgetown, Myrtle Beach and Berkeley County have raced to the area and are said to be battling a blaze fed by strong winds and dry conditions. A plane is in the area providing tactical support. The fire is said to be moving at “a rapid pace.”
Former lawmaker Arthur Ravenel Jr. was reached just after 5 p.m. at his home in the Hell Hole Swamp area of Berkeley County, an estimated 15 miles from the fire area.
He said he could not see any evidence of a fire from his porch and was unaware of any voluntary evacuation orders until a Post and Courier reporter telephoned to ask what he could see.
“If I evacuate and save my life, I will cite you as my deliverer,” Ravenel said, before hanging up the phone to check the skies.
Randy Scarborough of Bull’s Bay Supply/True Value on Highway 17 near McClellanville, said he saw at least 30 fire trucks go by heading to the assembling area a short while ago.
At least 60 people stranded by the fire were in his store, he said, buying drinks and asking directions on where to go now that the northern route to Myrtle Beach is severed.
The fire is about 4 miles away from his store. He can see smoke, but the smell has not yet become overpowering.
A Charleston County press spokeswoman said the fire is not contained and that the county is in the process of conducting a reverse 9-1-1 call to alert residents of a voluntary evacuation in a six-mile area. About half of the fire area is in Georgetown County.
The Red Cross has opened a shelter St. James Santee Elementary School.
Reporter Schulyer Kropf contributed to this story.