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Public safety: Amid wind and waves, fire destroys Pawleys home

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Midway firefighters battled wind and flood to extinguish two structure fires during Hurricane Matthew on Saturday.

Chief Doug Eggiman said Midway was called to a house fire at 216 Atlantic Ave. on Pawleys Island about 6 a.m. Saturday in winds exceeding 40 miles per hour.

Firefighters confirmed that wind speeds were below 50 mph, the shut down point for fire trucks, before they could respond to the call. The house was fully ablaze when firefighters arrived, and the wind was driving embers into houses on the second and third rows.

Eggiman said the focus was to protect neighboring houses from fire. “Winds blowing straight back helped,” he said. “The guys were quick and aggressive to limit it to just the house that burned. What you don’t want is two, three, four houses going off.”

Because it burned to the ground, the cause of the fire can’t be determined, he said.

While they were clearing the scene, firefighters were notified that a roof had blown off another house on the island. They helped Pawleys Island police remove it from Myrtle Avenue.

Later on Saturday, firefighters were called to the Heron Marsh section of Litchfield by the Sea where two buildings were on fire.

“The challenge with that,” Eggiman said, “was that it was during the storm surge.” He said high-wheeled National Guard vehicles transported medical personnel and firefighters with their equipment through the 4-foot-high water on the street.

Two fire trucks made it through the water to the fire scene, but a tower ladder truck did not.

“A number of our vehicles couldn’t make it, including mine for that matter,” the chief said. “A fire hydrant by the tennis courts was almost covered in water.”

Four condos were damaged in the blaze, Eggiman said. There were no injuries. He said Midway answered about 300 calls for medical emergencies, gas leaks, arching transformers and debris clearing during the storm’s aftermath. “It gets pretty crazy,” he said.

His next concern will be electrical fires as power is restored to residences and businesses that might have line damage. “That’s always a hold-your-breath moment,” he said.

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