McCLELLANVILLE, SC (WCSC) - The South Carolina Forestry Commission now estimates that the massive McClellanville wildfire has damaged more than 2,500 acres. The fire is the largest in the forestry commission's coastal operating region in 10 years.
On Day two, firefighters were watching areas along Highway 17 and Rutledge Road that were still burning. Firefighters monitored two major hot spots that have been threatening to spread. The were also monitoring a bridge area, trying to prevent fire from reaching it.
Earlier on Thursday, the sheriff's office helicopter assisted with a flyover to asses the damage and make sure that the fire was contained and that the wet lines were holding. Later in the day as high wind gusts were blowing up to 37 mph, the US Coast Guard assisted with the flyovers.
"Right now we have a lot of hot spots that are not contained," said SC Forestry official Gene Kodama. "That we have to keep after to make sure they don't escape, particularly as the wind gusts switches, it can turn into another big fire."
Firefighters say that the area along Rutledge Road is one of the hardest hit spots. Both sides were still burning Thursday evening. State Forestry officials and local fire departments were on scene all day long. They are preparing for a five-day detail, but officials expect to have the fire contained before then.
The 2,500-acre wildfire is being called "The Windy Fire" by officials on the ground. It is about 85 percent contained, which is a slight from the 98 percent reported earlier Thursday.
The flames claimed three structures and an estimated 2,000 acres or more of forest.
Authorities began their investigation into the cause of the massive fire.
"It is very large and there are a lot of fingers to it," Kodama said. "It's hard to get your hands around what's there so we had to get air support to come and check to tell us what's going on the ground."
After looking at the fire as a whole, investigators will be able to pinpoint the origin.
"An easy way to look, follow the wind direction back to the origin. They're investigating that right now to figure that out," Kodama said.
Kodama added that the statistics show more than 80 to 90 percent of all wildfires are caused by people, but what started this fire is yet to be determined.
No one was injured during the fire, but these woods are home to many , many animals. Forestry officials say that wildlife usually escapes to greener area, but eventually they return to the once-burned area.
Fire crews from Charleston, Berkeley and Georgetown County agencies are assisting the forestry commission in keeping the fire under control.
On Wednesday, resources from the US Forest Service, SC Forestry Commission and Awendaw Fire District cooperated on initial attack of the fire. Overnight, burnout operations were conducted to improve containment lines. Some areas on the western side of the fire remain uncontained.
Fire appears to have burned exclusively on private property, except for a portion of Hampton State Park. The three structures lost appear to have been outbuildings, not homes.
Officials have assigned an incident commander, two division supervisors, five tractor plows, a plans Chief, five or six brush trucks crews from fire departments and the Nature Conservancy, two forestry commission investigators and water tender from the fire department.
The SC Forestry Commission said its objectives for Thursday are to maintain safety of firefighters, first responders and the public. They also want to protect improved property and operate in unified command with Awendaw Fire District.
Crews will complete containment lines around the fire, keep fire within established containment lines and improve lines with tractor plows and burnout operations where feasible. They also plan to mop up hot spots along perimeter using engines and dozers.
Highway 17 North was reopened Thursday morning after being shut down Wednesday afternoon.