Firefighters making progress on wildfire

Russell Brinson/Russell Brinson Photography
Fire burning on Table Rock Mountain lights the night sky last week. Officials say they are making progress on the wildfire, which has grown to more than 6,000 acres and was approximately 35 percent contained on Tuesday.

COUNTY — The ongoing fire at Pinnacle Mountain has spurred Pickens County Council members to declare a state of emergency.

Council held an emergency meeting after the groundbreaking of Cateechee Beach Park last Wednesday morning to make the declaration.

County attorney Ken Roper said the state of emergency declaration gives both the county administrator and the director of emergency management more flexibility in allocating resources to fight the fire.

The fire has grown to more than 6,000 acres and has spread into Greenville County. A portion of the fire breached a fire line on Saturday. By Sunday, it had run all the way to the top of Rocky Mountain, according to a release issued by Pickens County Emergency Management director Denise Kwiatek.

The South Carolina Forestry Commission said in a release that that portion of the fire continues to grow as well. Early reports Monday indicated the fire was growing northwest toward Buzzard Mountain, but aerial observations later in the day confirmed that the fire is spreading equally in all directions from its position. The containment strategy of constructing hand lines around the area remains the same.

On Tuesday morning, commission officials said in a release this portion of the fire had crossed into the northwestern sliver of Greenville County and up against the western side of Table Rock Reservoir. Incident command officials said the fire remained at 35 percent containment.

This portion of the fire is the most active area and continues to grow at a moderate pace, officials said.

The division of 60 hand crew members and three bulldozers assigned to this growing section is constructing lines from Table Rock Reservoir on the east around the fire to Benfield Road on the west, where Greenville and Pickens counties meet.

Officials believe the addition of so many resources — two more hand crews arrived T uesday — will be able to establish a line far enough outside of the fire’s perimeter to box it in to the new containment area.

More encouraging is the reduction in both the number and intensity of hot spots in the original containment region that encompasses the areas around Pinnacle Mountain and Table Rock Mountain.

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Kerry Gilstrap/Courier
A helicopter surveys the damage last week as smoke fills the air above a wildfire that has consumed thousands of acres of forest in northern Pickens County.

The western and southwestern firelines are very well contained after successful burnouts, officials said. Most other personnel continue to concentrate their efforts on reinforcing and improving the lines on all other sides of the containment area. One Black Hawk and two Chinook helicopters continue to drop water on hot spots. More than 250 personnel were working on the fire Tuesday.

Residents near the fire who were forced to evacuate over the weekend were told on Monday that they could return to their homes.

No structures or residential areas are currently being threatened.

The Forestry Commission performed a large-scale burnout on and around Table Rock Mountain Thursday to remove fuel from the wildfire on Pinnacle Mountain before the arrival of high winds Saturday. The operation was largely successful, burning more than 90 percent of the area inside the firelines that firefighters were able to construct over the past week.

Residents are reminded to avoid the Highway 11, Highway 178 North, and South Saluda Road areas to reduce traffic and congestion around the fire area.

The incident management team’s finance section chief estimates the total cost of the firefighting effort, including personnel, time and resources, has exceeded $2 million.

Those wishing to support the ongoing operations on Pinnacle Mountain can do so by making a financial donation to the “Firefighting Efforts Pickens County” account at on the American Red Cross Donate page.

The Forestry Commission issued a burning ban for all counties in the state as of Nov. 19.

The ban had previously been in place since Nov. 9 for only the 19 counties in the state’s Piedmont region.

State forester Gene Kodama expanded the ban statewide because of weather conditions associated with an approaching cold front that presents an elevated risk of wildfire. Forecasts for most of the state over the next week include gusting winds and very low relative humidity, which combine with dry fuels on the ground to create the potential for outdoor fires escaping easily and spreading rapidly.

A State Forester’s Burning Ban prohibits outdoor burning, which includes yard debris burning and burning for forestry, wildlife or agricultural purposes. While campfires and open-fire cooking are not included in the ban, the Forestry Commission strongly advises all citizens to be extremely vigilant until the ban is lifted.

The ban will stay in effect until further notice, which will come in the form of an official announcement from the Forestry Commission.