'Heroes' battled house fires during Hurricane Matthew

'Heroes' battled house fires during Hurricane Matthew

PAWLEYS ISLAND, SC (WCSC) - Folks along the Grand Strand are thanking the crews at the Midway Fire Rescue, calling them "Hurricane Heroes."

The fire department faced hurricane winds and storm surge to fight not just one, but two fires during the storm.

Early Saturday morning as Hurricane Mathew was barreling in, a house on the north end of Pawleys Island caught fire.

Chief Doug Eggiman said his department assessed wind conditions and decided they could respond without endangering their firefighters.

Eggiman said the house was fully involved when crews arrived.

"There was a large amount of flying embers, of course, with the wind," he said. "There was a structure on each side that was threatened because of the wind conditions, and the fire was intense,"

The goal of fighting a fire during a hurricane, the chief said, is to keep the fire to the building where it started.

He said his crews were able to do that, staying on the scene for an hour and a half, as long as conditions allowed.

But eventually, Hurricane Matthew was more than he was comfortable with.

"Trying to spray water wasn't very effective at that point in time, so we pulled operations," Eggiman said. "We were comfortable that between the rain and the job that we had done, that it was unlikely there would be any further spread,"

Once conditions improved Midway crews went back to the scene to put out the hot spots.

Fighting a fire during a hurricane was a first for Chief Eggiman.

"I was here during Hugo, and we didn't have any structure fires," he said.

And the Pawleys fire wasn't the only one during Hurricane Matthew.

There was yet another fire at Litchfield by the Sea that involved two condominiums.

This time, it was the storm surge the firefighters had to brave.

"If you haven't ever experienced storm surge, it's not what you want to experience," Chief Eggiman remarked.

That fire was called in by the Litchfield by the Sea security.

There were two condos on fire, and condos on each side of them were threatened as well.

"When we responded to Litchfield by the Sea, I think we were about an hour before high tide, so we ran into some pretty heavy storm surge," Eggiman said.  "The estimation was in some places from two to five feet, and of course our vehicles aren't designed for that kind of storm surge."

The firefighters managed to get an engine and aerial and two other vehicles to the fire scene.

The chief said their goal was to limit the fire to the two condos where the fire started.

"We had National Guard units attached to us prior to the storm which was a great help because they had high water vehicles and they helped us get personnel there," the chief said.

"Our vehicles aren't designed to go thru three feet of water, and it was a challenge,"  he remarked.  "I know going in there, the water levels were up to the top of the fire hydrants, so again it was a little bit of a challenge."

If the crews had not been able to douse the flames, the fire could have threatened many more buildings in the community.

"It's not going stop itself," the chief said. "So instead of two buildings, you've got four, six, and theoretically, you lose the whole community," the chief said.

But the chief said it must be safe enough for the crews to respond, and in both cases, he said, "The timing was where we were within the realm of safety."

But it wasn't easy.

"Our crews operating on the Litchfield one, typically the water level was knee, thigh deep, which you know came as a challenge," he said.  "Not only are
you worried about the whole community burning down, but those are people's property, their memories, vacation homes, and some cases their livelihood, too."

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