MCCLELLANVILLE Arson is suspected in a wildfire last week that burned 2,400 acres along the South Santee River, sparked evacuations and threatened historic structures.
Based on testimony and the scorch marks left behind, it was intentionally set, said Scott Hawkins, of the S.C. Forestry Commission on Friday. There was prescribed burning in the area, but those burners said they were not in that spot at that time, he said. It was arson.
The fire was one of two large wildland fires that started in the region around Charleston during a week of gusty winds, as forestry crews battled multiple fires across the state. A fire in the Sand Ridge community in Dorchester County on March 24 burned more than 1,200 acres. A rural county resident was ticketed for allowing fire to spread to the lands of another in that blaze.
The McClellanville fire erupted March 23 in pine plantation land, but threatened rural communities, several plantations and a state park. More than 150 firefighters battled it with bulldozers and controlled backfire burns. The smoke was so thick that visibility on the highway was zero, forcing officials to close it to all traffic. Travelers were detoured over into Berkeley County to get to and from areas north of the Santee River.
More than 100 people were evacuated. The fire burned through a telephone switching station, and the damage caused problems when authorities tried to use reverse 911 to notify residents of voluntary evacuations. Sixteen buildings were destroyed, but none were residential.