Rain boosts efforts to contain Pinnacle Mountain blaze as smoke covers Upstate

PICKENS — An unexpected rain Sunday morning provided a boost to efforts to put out a wildfire on Pinnacle Mountain, but much work remains to be done.

According to a release from Pierce Womack, deputy director of Pickens County Emergency Management, the weather helped slow the fire’s progress.

According to an update from the commission on Tuesday morning, the fire grew from 2,312 acres on Sunday to 2,765 acres by late Monday. The growth was due to burnout operations on the west side of the fire, as well as fire backing down slopes in the Panther Gap area between Pinnacle Mountain and Table Rock.

Firefighters strengthened firelines between Emory Gap Road and Emory Creek Monday by burning out along these firebreaks to reduce the amount of fuel in that area.

Tuesday’s plans included patrolling the burnout area on the west side of the fire and evaluating possible firing operations in the northwest corner of the fire near the South Saluda River, officials said. Helicopters continued to be used to cool hot spots, especially in the Panther Gap area. On the east side of the fire, crews planned Tuesday to improve firelines and scout possible locations for additional firebreaks.

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Photos courtesy Oconee County Emergency Services – Smoke from a wildfire that has consumed nearly 3,000 acres near Pinnacle Mountain has blanketed the Upstate over the last week.

Fire department personnel continued going door-to-door Tuesday informing area residents about the status of the fire. In addition to this work, fire department staff are working closely with Forestry Commission personnel to coordinate the efforts to contain the Pinnacle Mountain fire.

Light winds, along with morning and nighttime inversions, cause smoked to linger in the area most of the day Tuesday. Residents with respiratory problems are advised to take necessary precautions, and motorists should slow down and use headlights for better visibility, officials said.

Although the cause of the Pinnacle Mountain fire has been determined to be an escaped campfire, rumors that it was a Boy Scout campfire are incorrect, according to officials.

The light rain, which began falling around 5 a.m. Sunday, allowed S.C. Forestry crews time to get containment lines dug around the fire. It also allowed county fire and rescue personnel time to continue door-to-door assessments of structures that are in the fire’s path.

Visibility had improved somewhat by Tuesday, and helicopter bucket drops by the S.C. National Guard resumed this week, according to the commission. The Guard’s Chinook and Blackhawk helicopters are assisting firefighters by cooling hot spots with water.

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Pickens County Fire and Rescue personnel are being assisted by many neighboring departments from throughout the Upstate, including Anderson, Oconee and Greenville counties, the release said.

Fire crews have been in the area speaking to residents about the “Firewise” program and educating them on ways to prevent fire spread. Preventing fire spread helps protect all residents.

The S.C. National Guard has been lifting water from Pinnacle Lake at Table Rock State Park to fight a wildfire in northern Pickens County.

Residents can help prevent fire spread by removing fuels such as fallen leaves, mulch and other dry vegetation from around their homes, officials said. This creates a “defensible space” between a home and any chances of fire spread. Checklists were being given to nearby residences in case further evacuations are necessary in the coming days.

The fire prompted evacuation calls for residents near the fire on Saturday. Midway Baptist Church and East Pickens Baptist Church hosted evacuees until they were told they could return to the area Sunday afternoon.

While further evacuations were not expected, officials said residents should remain vigilant and stay tuned to local media outlets for information should the need to take immediate action arise.

The public is still asked to avoid the Highway 11 and Highway 178 North areas to reduce traffic and congestion around the fire area.

Pickens County encourages residents to register their contact information with the county’s Reverse Notification System so they can receive emergency alerts in the event of evacuations. Find more information at

Table Rock State Park has been completely evacuated, and fire crews are canvassing the park to make sure all structures can be protected if the fire progresses. Pre-planning the park is a precautionary measure and will expedite defense of park structures if necessary.

On Monday, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control declared an air quality action day for fine particulates, due to the Pinnacle Mountain fire, as well as large wildfires in Georgia and Eastern Tennessee. The smoke plumes produced by the wildfires are expected to create unhealthy breathing conditions where the smoke is most concentrated, according to a DHEC release.

An air quality action day means that fine particulate concentrations within the affected counties may approach or exceed unhealthy standards.

The affected counties are Abbeville, Anderson, Cherokee, Chester, Greenwood, Greenville, Laurens, Oconee, Pickens, Spartanburg, Union and York.

Those within the affected counties are urged to limit outdoor activities as much as possible.

“Smoke from these fires can irritate the eyes and respiratory system, as well as aggravate or exacerbate chronic heart and lung diseases,” said Rhonda Thompson, chief of the Bureau of Air Quality.

DHEC recommends that those with respiratory health issues limit time spent outdoors to avoid the smoke and take measures to prevent smoke from getting inside such as keeping windows and doors closed and keeping the fresh-air intake of air conditioners or central heating units closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside.

People near the wildfire should monitor the situation closely. Visit the SC Forestry Commission website at for the most up-to-date information.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has authorized federal funds to reimburse costs to South Carolina to fight the Pinnacle Mountain fire burning in Pickens County.

This authorization makes FEMA grant funding available to reimburse 75 percent of the eligible firefighting costs for managing, mitigating and controlling the fire. Eligible costs can include labor, equipment and supplies used for fighting the fire and costs for emergency work such as evacuations and sheltering, police barricading and traffic control.

“This wildfire is a major risk to lives and property. FEMA has approved this request to ensure that South Carolina has the resources to fight this fire,” said FEMA regional administrator Gracia Szczech. “State and local partners are the frontline responders battling this wildfire, and we will continue to work closely with them.”

The state requested a Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG), and it was granted in the late afternoon of Nov. 12. The fire started on Nov. 8, and at the time of the request, had burned in excess of 1,500 acres of state and private land.