SLED called out to investigate Dewees Island blaze

DEWEES ISLAND, SC (WCSC) - The State Law Enforcement Division has been called on to help the Dewees Island Fire Department with the investigation of a late night blaze that destroyed two homes Tuesday.

Dewees Island Fire Chief Randy Snipes says he "doesn't expect arson but because of the property dollar loss" they wanted another opinion.

Snipes believes the fire originated at a home that was under construction and spread leaving ashes and pilings sticking out of the ground of two homes. The community says the fire could have claimed more homes if it wasn't for fast action and Dewees Island emergency plan.

"All you saw was a ball of fire in the sky," said island resident Anne Anderson.

But all that's left on the ocean side of Dewees Island is rubble sitting over two home foundations.

"The flames were going up a hundred, hundred fifty feet," said Artus Moser, who was one of the first people to pull up to the fire. "The fire was twice as high as the houses."

Moser said the fire reminded him of "a battle zone."

After taking in the scene just after 9 p.m. Tuesday, he said he jumped into action, alongside of 15-20 other members of the community and the Dewees Island Fire Department.

"We just know on a small island like this that we need to cooperate in emergencies," said Moser.

The community agrees. Most people said if it wasn't for fast action and a plan by the permanent island residents and Dewees Island Fire Department, the fire damage would have been much worse.

"We practice this type of thing," said island resident Anne Anderson.

Since Dewees Island is a barrier island, not far from the Isle of Palms, and you can only get to the island by boat, training for emergencies is a must.

The first line of defense was laid by the Dewees Island Fire Department, that consists of four full time firefighters and 11 part time firemen along with volunteers.

Fire Chief Randy Snipes and Joe Venezia were the first on the scene. They were aided in trying to contain the fire and setting up by residents who showed up on their heels.

After ten years, Anderson says she's never seen a fire on Dewees Island but knows exactly what to do if one sparks.

"My job was to be over at the landing area," said Anderson. "I help the boats find parking spaces and help the people into golf carts to come to the fire."

Anderson wasn't alone, Judy Fairchild says almost everyone on the island has a job to do.

"Fire can happen anywhere and at anytime," said Fairchild. "The important part is you have a plan to contain that and a system that works. We do."

That system is a volunteer training course that is practiced once a month so all those on the island know what they should be doing when something happens out of their control.

Fairchild says even though Dewees Island rescue crews work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, have two trucks and hydrants all over the island, they always need more bodies.

"Everybody's got a job to do and the whole community pulls together," said Fairchild. "The first question is are you OK? And then it's what do we do next?"

For the community of Dewees Island, next, is the clean up of the two destroyed homes and reflection on their response and effectiveness.

"When you come back and look at what happened I'm even more thankful and amazed," said Anderson. "I want to congratulate everybody that was here in containing the fire to these two buildings."

Officials with the Dewees Island Fire Crew and Isle of Palms Fire Department are still trying to determine what caused the blaze.

The fire started just after 9 p.m. Tuesday at one home and spread rapidly, burning down another and damaging several others.  One of the destroyed homes was under construction, and the other was being renovated.

Copyright 2012 WCSC. All rights reserved.