Pond Branch, SC (Paul Kirby) – A grass and woods fire west of Gilbert consumed between two- and three-acres Friday afternoon off Elzie Hallman Road west of the 44 Truck Stop. The fire made a strong run for I-20 near the 43 mile-marker before Lexington County firefighters, working together with a tractor-plow unit and personnel from the SC Forestry Commission, were able to catch it and plow a firebreak around it stopping its progress.
The fire was dispatch around 4:00 p.m. Friday. When the first fire service unit arrived, the senior man on that truck reported he had a fire running across a field of light fuels that was being pushed along by a strong wind. The fire was rolling east toward I-20 and accessing it was difficult with a full-sized fire engine. The county’s 911 center had already dispatched a smaller, rough terrain brush truck to the fire, and a tractor-plow unit and operator were requested from the SC Forestry Commission. It took a little longer than usual for the brush truck to arrive because several of the surrounding stations equipped with these types of apparatus were already committed on other calls.
As the fire raced toward I-20, a thick blanket of smoke began to cross the interstate. The fire’s incident commander requested that a Lexington County sheriff’s deputy or a SC state trooper respond to the interstate in the area of mile-marker 43 to attempt to slow motorist before they ran into the smoke with no notice. Eventually, a law enforcement officer did arrive to assist in that endeavor.
More fire equipment including water tankers from the LCFS arrived on scene, and together, the firefighters worked to slow the spread of the blaze until the tractor from the SCFC could arrive. At some point, the fire got into some small pines and consumed ladder fuels to allow it to get off the ground and into the crowns of the trees. Crowning fires, ones that run in the tops of the trees instead of along the ground underneath, are more difficult to fight and can be extremely dangerous to firefighters.
The tractor-plow operator was able to get his bulldozer on the ground and plow a fire break all the way around the fire anchoring it to ensure it encircled the entire burn. Natural breaks, or ones already existing in the area like the road, helped the fire crews stop the fire spread. Eventually, working together, the Lexington County firefighters and personnel and equipment from the SC Forestry Commission were able to stop the spread of the blaze.
Lexington County used its social media to warn people in the area that they might continue seeing and smelling smoke for some time to come. People could also see small blazes over time where stumps and other thicker fuels with hidden embers could rekindle. If these are stationary and inside the firebreak or the already blackened area, they should be no cause for alarm and eventually burn themselves out. If anyone sees fire outside the break in an area where the ground isn't already burned around it, they should dial 911 to report it.
Even though we have had plenty of rain in Lexington County recently, the entire county was placed under a Red Flag Fire Alert Friday. Strong spring winds can quickly dry out lighter fuels like broom straw and grass that are still dormant just as a hairdryer would dry your hair. With a few exceptions, no outdoor burning may take place in unincorporated portions of Lexington County until further notice. Most incorporated areas, both cities and towns, already have ordinances that either ban or strictly control outdoor burning within the incorporated boundaries. (Read about the Rd Flag Fire Alert here)