Homeowners picked through the rubble of destroyed houses Saturday as officials warned stiffening afternoon winds could push a four-day South Carolina wildfire toward other inland homes.
Still, authorities said a massive firefighting effort just miles from the state's main tourist spot appeared to be taking hold. In all, 31 square miles had been scorched since the fire started spreading Wednesday — demolishing more than 70 homes and damaging 100 others. No injuries have been reported.
At the golf course subdivision hardest hit by the blaze, homeowners said they plan to rebuild.
"It's stuff that can be replaced. But it's something we loved," said Ginny Paradise, 60, of Cleveland, who lost the vacation home she plans to rebuild so she can retire there.
Joe Gosiewski and wife Nancy moved into their Barefoot Resort home last year from Delaware. They were left with only the Adirondack chairs he'd built two weeks ago, and a coffee mug with the slogan "Life is Good."
"Everything we own is here. There's nothing. We got out with our wallets," said Gosiewski, 55, a former insurance adjuster whose brother's home also was demolished.
"We want to rebuild. We won't let a fire chase us away," he said, though he worries about getting a mortgage in the down economy.
Attacking hot spots
Half a mile away, state workers and fire crews knocked down trees and plowed firebreaks in the hopes of keeping the fire contained. Officials opened some roads near the charred areas and said the blaze was 85 percent under control thanks in part to workers dousing hotspots in an effort to keep expected late-day winds from blowing embers toward houses.
His face dotted with soot, forestry worker Billy Green sprayed a mix of foam and water on smoldering pockets among the pine trees.
"Little hotspots like these that are burning next to the fire break could be dangerous," said Green. "It could be all over if they start burning again."
Holly Welch, a spokeswoman for the state Forestry Commission, said complete containment of the fire could still take a couple of days, depending on the wind. She said that rain, which was not in any immediate forecast for the area, was the "only thing that's going to put it completely out. It could take months before it's completely out."
Meanwhile, state officials stuck by their contention that the blaze sparked from the smoldering remains of a yard fire set a week earlier by the resident in Conway, 10 miles from Barefoot Resort. Horry County firefighters responded twice to that small, April 18 blaze.
State Forestry Commission spokesman Scott Hawkins reiterated Saturday that state officials believe the fire started four days after Marc Torchi's yard fire rekindled. But he urged restraint in putting blame on another agency.
"Our concern now is putting the fire out. Later on we can take a look at the time line. There will be a lot of pressure on Horry County later on," he said. "They've always done a wonderful job and they're our brethren in the firefighting community.
Yard blaze scrutinized
Horry County Fire Rescue spokesman Todd Cartner continued to insist the yard fire to which his agency responded was not what caused the wildfire. "The yard fire taking place on Saturday is not associated with the one that took place Wednesday, even though they came from the same place. We're treating those two separate," he said.
Torchi's wife, Megan Brogan, said Saturday that her family had been threatened since officials said they would fine him for unlawfully burning the pine straw and leaves in his yard. No criminal charge has been filed.
Brogan said she felt a little better that people were learning through news reports that county firefighters had been called to their home. "Everything seems to be getting back to normal," she said.
Experts said "rekindles," or re-ignitions of a fire after responders leave an area, can take place several days later from embers that manage to smolder even in damp conditions.