CAROLINA FOREST, SC (WMBF) – After a media briefing with the governor on Monday, officials indicated they're a few steps closer to knowing what sparked the Carolina Forest fire that left most of a community without homes.
When Governor Haley, emergency responders and state representatives stepped in front of the microphones at the press conference Monday afternoon, they were prepared to not only brief the media and the public with the latest details, but praise the ones who ended the tragic situation before it got worse.
Governor Haley began her remarks by recalling what she saw flying over the charred remains of Windsor Green. The fire jumped over roads, leaping from building to building and she seemed astonished by the sheer power of the flames, fed by a roaring wind and flammable materials.
"It is unbelievable how they stopped that fire," Governor Haley says, speaking of the many first responders who risked their lives for the families who called Windsor Green home.
Speaking directly to those affected the worst by the blaze, Governor Haley said, "I want to tell the victims I am so sorry."
She then continued in praise of the men and women who leapt to their rescue, which were there at the right time to save so many lives. "God had his hand on us. Horry County is blessed."
"I am more than pleased to see how well everyone is working together. What your community has done is fantastic," Haley boosts.
Next at the microphone was Horry County Police Chief Rhodes, who delivered the news that all residents of Windsor Green have now been accounted for. She says the pace of the search will likely slow now that each person has been located, and well.
She then thanked the people who lost it all, saying "The victims have been very understanding. We appreciate your patience. We are here for you."
The fire chief for Horry County Fire Rescue said, "It was a tragic night for a community of people and there are never words that can make that ok."
He continued to say what forestry officials later confirmed. After ruling out all other causes they determined the fire sparked from some human intervention, and have ruled out campfire as a cause.
The fire, they say, sparked in a 15x15 area behind the Windsor Green area around 5 p.m..
The rapid spread of the fire was due mostly to high winds, and building construction.
Officials said 26 buildings were damaged or destroyed, including over 100 apartment units.
On Monday morning, Horry County Police asked all residents in all phases of the Windsor Green subdivision to check in with them , whether affected by the fire or not. Residents who live in Windsor Green are asked to call 843-997-6970.
Carolina Forest Elementary School Principal Dennis Devorick sent a recording to students' families saying 7 students and 2 faculty members were affected by the fire. Classes commence Monday as normal, and guidance counselors will be on hand to speak to students and faculty members who wish to talk. There will also be a wishing well for students.
A Facebook post from Horry County Schools' page confirmed all Carolina Forest schools will be open on their normal schedule on Monday. Students who need school supplies,clothes, books etc should contact Caroline Chestnut with Horry County Schools at 843-488-6768.
All neighborhoods except Windsor Green have been reopened.
All buildings on Brite Water Court are a loss, all buildings on Twin Pond Court are a loss, and everything on Pond Shoals is a loss, except for building number 4929, Horry County official Lisa Bourcier said. On Crab Pond Court, unit 4931 has burned, and half of unit 4930.
Some buildings had four units, others as many as nine, Horry County officials said.
No single-family homes near those communities have been damaged, Bourcier said.
The American Red Cross is setting up a hotline number for people affected by the fire that need help. The number is: 843-477-0020. The shelter at Ocean Bay Middle school will close on Sunday and those needing shelter, food, water and clothing are asked to call the Red Cross.
On Sunday, ten search and rescue teams made up of county police and firefighters went through the Windsor Green community looking for possible victims. At this time, they have no reason to believe there are any, but not everyone has been accounted for.
Red Cross and Horry County Fire and Rescue officials are trying to get everyone accounted for by logging residents of Windsor Green by their building unit and name. Residents can also call 903-8420 to be accounted for.
On Sunday, residents of Windsor Green were able to go to Carolina Forest Elementary School and have crews escort them back to their burned and damaged units for necessary items. Residents were able to get what they needed and then they were escorted back out. Those living on the west side of the complex were able to go back home, but even were urged not to because the area is still considered dangerous. It could also pose a threat to those with respiratory issues.
The Horry County Fire Chief has issued a burn ban on all unincorporated areas of Horry County until further notice.
As of Sunday morning, the fire was contained, but still smoldering, officials say. Crews are moving debris around. The SCFC is on scene investigating the cause of the fire.
Horry County authorities said one Windsor Green resident had a heart attack and was transported to a nearby hospital. Three police officers were transported to the hospital for smoke inhalation. One firefighter was sent to the hospital earlier tonight as well, but there is no update on his condition.
Several local businesses have stepped up to assist displaced victims of the Carolina Forest Fire. The Quality Inn in Conway, next to El Patio, is offering discounted rates for displaced residents, and they do accept pets. Call 347-7254 for more information.
Ya Ya's Consignment in Conway has clothes available for women and girls. Anyone affected by the fire can call Donna Carrillo at 843-467-1991 – she will meet you at the shop or find a different ways to get clothes to fire victims.