It's been 19 months since the October 2015 flood. During this time, the Sumter Fire Department has held classroom training exercises in a portable acquired from the local school district. The classrooms in the department's training facility took on over 20 inches of water and sustained $500,000 in damages. The department recently celebrated the reopening of the facility. Battalion Chief Joey Duggan said it's a mixture of old and new that will better serve the area. South Carolina Public Radio's Thelisha Eaddy reports.
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Working to ensure that South Carolina communities have the proper infrastructure and facilities to fight fire has become even more important in the time since the flood. Here, Josh Floyd reports on the increase in wildfires expected in the state this summer.
Two years after the historic 1,000-year flood, and one year after Hurricane Matthew, it’s hard to imagine that being too dry is a threat for South Carolina, but that is the case when it comes to the spread of wildfires. While April usually sees the end of fire season, more and larger wildfires are expected this year due to a severe drought in the upstate, says Doug Wood, Director of Communications for the South Carolina Forestry Commission. While wildfires can pose a very real danger, there are also ways to prevent serious damage.
During the past fiscal year, the South Carolina Forestry Commission has responded to 1,782 wildfires. Compared to last year’s number of 989 responses, that’s an 80 percent increase. Wildfires burned 23,821 acres this fiscal year compared to last year’s 5,446 acres, which is a whopping 437 percent increase. Ten thousand of those burned acres come from the Table Rock wildfires from last November.
The increase in wildfires from year-to-year can come from a variety of reasons. Severe flooding in South Carolina the past two years not only decreased wildfire numbers for those years, but also left behind large amounts of debris in their wake. Debris from Hurricane Matthew has already been pointed to as a cause for brush fires in Georgetown last month. Despite the massive flooding, South Carolina is in the midst of a severe drought in the upstate. The lack of rain is one factor, but so is the low humidity, which can be much harder to detect. “As soon as things dry out, that has everything to do with the ignition and spread of fires,” Doug Wood warns.
The people that live in cities have less to worry about than people who live within areas known as Wildland-Urban Interface, or WUI. “If you live next to a bunch of woods, the threat of wildfire is always going to be there,” Wood says. “But there are steps you can take to prepare your home.”
Those steps come from the Firewise Wildfire Preparedness Toolkit. It outlines steps that can be taken to help protect homes from fire. The list includes raking pine straw and needles up to 30 feet away from your home, removing fallen tree limbs, and collaborating with neighbors to make the area safer.
Doug Wood points to a man named David Loveland as an example of how helpful these Firewise tips can be. Loveland lives in a mountain home near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. During last year’s Great Smoky Mountains wildfires, everyone in the area was told to evacuate. The damage done by the fires was massive, but Loveland and his wife’s home remained untouched by the fire thanks to the Firewise preparation as well as Loveland’s former work experience as a fire manager for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Wildfires might not necessarily be on the top of South Carolinian minds as a potential disaster, but preparation and knowledge of what to do in the event of a wildfire in your area is important.
Firewise Wildfire Preparedness information can be found at Firewise.com.