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County firefighters race from call to call as woods fires ravage our area

Lexington County, SC (Paul Kirby) – Lexington County firefighters, backed up by wildland firefighting units from the SC Forestry Commission, raced from call to callSaturday afternoon as almost every station across the area was committed to battling brush fires that consumed many acres and some buildings in the process.

It started around noon with a woods-brush fire on Hallman Mill Road near the Hollow Creek area of the county. From that point forward, things seemed to accelerate and the fires and other emergencies began to be called in fast and furiously.

An apartment fire was called in on Comanche Trail in West Columbia, but that was a minor call that was handled quickly by units from West Columbia and the city of Cayce. Units from the city of Columbia FD were enroute to assist, but those responders were quickly released to return to quarters after the fire was reported under control.

The gusting winds picked up even more and eventually caused a sailboat to go aground on the rocks at the Lake Murray dam. Units from the Irmo Fire District and Lexington County responded to this situation, but once it was realized that no lives were in imminent danger, that situation was turned over to officers from DNR.

A grass/brush fire was called in on Roland Drive off Old Barnwell Road near Red Bank. Units from Pine Grove and Red Bank quickly responded to that and brought that fire under control before it became a major incident.

While the Roland fire was still being mopped up, a mobile home was reported to be on fire on Irvin Jumper Street east of Gaston. Units from Gaston, Sandy Run, Swansea, South Congaree, and several other stations responded.

A Gaston police officer arrived at this fire first, and that officer reported that heavy black smoke and fire were pouring from the home. The occupant of the home had escaped, but was worried that his dog was still in the house. Eventually, the dog was retrieved by the officer before the firefighters arrived on that scene.

By the time the first due fire trucks arrived, this mobile home was fully involved. The fire crews pulled their hoses and attacked the fire. That fire had spread to some woods that the firefighters also had to deal with.

While this was happening near Gaston, crews from Amick’s Ferry fire station near Chapin responded to a reported car fire on Crystal Creek Circle off DreherIsland Road. Here too they ended up battling a wind driven woods fire that required assistance from several other stations and the forestry commission.

While that was happening north of the lake, a field fire was reported on Cross Hill Circle between Lexington and Red Bank. At this fire, wind was pushing the flames quickly and there were immediate reports that a shed was on fire along with a tractor. A county deputy arrived on the scene and reported that the fire was threatening a chicken coup that was full of poultry.

Firefighters arrived on this scene and quickly began working putting out the fire. They requested additional water and senior fire officials were out moving trucks and personnel to cover the empty stations that were committed to all the calls.

Almost immediately, another fire broke out near the lake in the Hollow Creek and Lake Murray portion of the county. Trucks ran into that fire quickly and made an attack, but the fire had spread into thick brush. This required a tractor plow from the state to plow a break around the fire before it was marked under control.

In the center of the county, a fire off Basin Rock Lane was small in comparison to the other fires that were burning. The winds were gusting, but firefighters made quick work of this one.

It was about this time that the first reports of a woods fire on Elzie Hallman Road began to come in. This road is close to Rawls Auto Auction off Pond Branch and runs parallel to I-20 west.

When firefighters arrived here, they discovered chaos. The fire had started near an older man doing some welding, according to bystanders on the scene. It quickly spread into dense brush and heavy vegetation, and driven by the strong winds, it began to consume everything in its path.

As the fire commanders realized just how fast this fire was moving, they struck a second alarm bringing more resources from across the county. Firefighters from Batesburg-Leesville joined the fight as structures began to be consumed by the blaze.

A rural water supply system was set up and trucks from as far away as Gaston pitched in to carry water from hydrants on Pond Branch down the long dirt road. Fire officers moved what trucks and personnel were still free as best they could, but at this point most of the county’s fire resources were committed somewhere on a fire.

Beside the woods fires, there was a report of a vehicle fire at Edmund Highway and Old Orangeburg Road, a car crash that blocked a portion of Edmund Highway at Princeton Road, and another brush fire on Martin Smith near Neely Wingard Road. Excuse me if I missed a few, but by this point, it was amazing that the telecommunications officers at the 911 center were able to keep up at all. The fires and other emergencies were rolling in as fast as I can ever remember.

As the firefighters got a handle on the Elzie Hallman fire, another woods-brush fire was reported on Sandra Drive off Jackson Street near Pelion. This fire burned over to Canal Drive where homeowners saw it and began to call it in there as well.

At about the same time, firefighters responded to another deep-seated wood fire off Lloydwood Drive that was burning toward Belle Meade of Charleston Highway. In this case too, the firefighters needed the help of a bulldozer from the state to plow the fire out.

As night fell and the winds began to die down, firefighters finally got a handle on the fires and moved into mop up efforts that kept them busy well after dark. When all was said and done, I don’t believe that there was any county station that wasn’t out on at least one call yesterday.

Although the actual causes of each fire haven't been released by the county, it is suspected that many of them started when individuals were burning carelessly outdoors. Lexington County has ordinances that detail when and where you can burn outdoors. You can also be held criminally and civilly liable if you burn outdoors and allow your fire to get out of control, especially if your fire crosses onto the lands of another.

In all cases, learn before you burn. You can find all Lexington County burn ordinances on the county’s website at http://www.lex-co.sc.gov/departments/DeptIQ/publicworks/Pages/Burn.aspx.

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