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National Guard Responds to Myrtle Beach Wildfires

By Staff Sgt. S. Patrick McCollum/National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON , Va., April 27, 2009 - National Guard members from North and South Carolina responded to wildfires burning near Myrtle Beach, S.C., today.

Low humidity and high winds have fanned the flames in the city, consuming more than 19,000 acres, 69 homes and eight vehicles, according to reports. About 4,000 citizens have been evacuated in one of South Carolina’s most popular tourism destinations.

The 59th Aviation Troop Command from McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover, S.C., responded to a request by the U.S. Forest Service by rapidly dispatching a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from Company A, 2nd Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment.

“Within two hours of notification, our four-man Black Hawk crew was in Myrtle Beach ready to support the Forestry Service,” said Maj. Jay McElveen, assistant state Army Aviation officer for the South Carolina National Guard. 

Guard officials are reacting with a multistate response under the Emergency Management Compact Agreement in which states agree to share National Guard assets in times of emergency.  

South Carolina will provide command and control as well as one UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, while North Carolina assists with four Black Hawks from the 1st Aviation Assault Battalion, 131st Aviation Regiment based in Salisbury, N.C.

So far, the Black Hawks have flown almost four hours and dropped more than 36,000 gallons of water in 120 sorties with 60 buckets each.
Each bucket holds 600 gallons of water. They are filled with water then released over the fire in targeted areas to help contain or extinguish the fire.

According to reports, the National Guard has been able to contain about 75 percent of the fires around North Myrtle Beach and 40 percent overall.

While progress has been made, the worse may not yet be over.

“Everyone is trying to work as hard and as fast as they possibly can,” Col. Pete Brooks, a spokesman for the South Carolina National Guard, told the Pentagon Channel earlier today. “The worst part is the winds continue to move the fire.”

If the fires continue to gain traction, North Carolina Guard members are ready to respond with C-130 aircraft equipped with Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems, officials said.