Forestry Commission evaluates its own response to Horry wildfire

The Highway 31 Fire was the most destructive wildfire in the history of South Carolina with losses totaling more than $50 million. It is the second largest in size in the state’s recorded history, burning nearly 20,000 acres. The South Carolina Forestry Commission has prepared a report evaluating their response to the 2009 wildfire that ravaged a major portion of Horry County.
Spokesman for the South Carolina Forestry Commission, Scott Hawkins says a 35-page report has been posted on their website and will serve as an educational tool for years to come. “We’re very grateful that the fire ended the way it did,” said Hawkins. “We got it contained in record time and it was a success in that we had no injuries and no loss of life, although several homes were lost. But the important thing to remember is that even when a fire fight goes well, there’s always something you can learn from it for many years to come, and that’s what this document is.”The report indicates there’s a need for improved communications with other emergency response agencies during wildfires, annual exercises. Hawkins says that the South Carolina Forestry Commission began implementing recommendations to improve communications before the After Action Report (AAR) was final. “We’ve taken a long, hard look at communications technology, and we’re trying to get up to speed on the 800 megahertz radio systems that fire fighters use. Our agencies could communicate a lot more effectively if we were all using similar technology.”
The South Carolina Forestry Commission has posted on its website the 35-page After Action Report (AAR) on the Highway 31 Fire in Horry County. The AAR serves as a review of only the Forestry Commission’s performance on this fire. Spokesman, Scott Hawkins says that the After Action Report is available on the website, “and we invite the public to take a look at this 35-page document. Because it was a very educational and rewarding experience to put together and document those strengths and weaknesses so that when the next major wildfire comes, we’ll be even better prepared.”
As stated in the report, another area of deep concern is that over several years of declining budgets, the South Carolina Forestry Commission has been unable to replace aging emergency response equipment and to find and retain qualified firefighters. Hawkins said, “If we had the money we needed, we would go back to a fifteen-year replacement cycle on our firefighting equipment -those big tractors you see that used to plow fire breaks, they get old. In some cases we’ve got operators that are younger than the tractors they use to fight fires. Now that’s a safety concern, because as that equipment ages, it becomes less dependable.”