On November 9, 2016 a campfire abruptly became a wildfire within Table Rock State Park. At this time, it posed no threat to the Table Rock Watershed. The South Carolina Forestry Commission and local fire departments initiated efforts to fight the fire. South Carolina’s Air National Guard deployed two helicopters, a Black Hawk and a Chinook, to drop water from Lake Oolenoy into the affected area. Within a couple of days an Incident Command Center was moved to Table Rock Wesleyan Camp.
By November 12, the fire spread beyond Table Rock State Park and was approximately 1400 acres. By November 16, the fire was approximately 3282 acres with 170 personnel assigned to the incident and was now located within the Table Rock Watershed. During this time, Greenville Water staff used bulldozers to clear roads within the watershed that allowed firefighters adequate access to the fire. With a cold front bringing in high winds and lower humidity, fire officials took aggressive measures to gain control of the fire. One such measure was a large scale burnout operation on November 17 where a helicopter dropped “ping-pong balls” which ignited upon hitting the forest floor. This operation removed fuel such as dead trees and brush that would have allowed the fire to spread. Small scale precautionary evacuation efforts were also underway as bulldozers, fire trucks and crews with hand tools worked to maintain fire lines to prevent the fire from spreading. By November 18, the fire was an estimated 5095 acres with 270 personnel assigned to the incident. However, the burnout operation was successful and evacuation orders would soon be lifted. On November 19 the cold front arrived with wind gusts of up to 35 mph which brought dangerous conditions. While the fire seemed to hold at the South Saluda River, the winds became too much and the fire jumped over the river. SC Forestry Commission then decided to use Slickum Road as the next fire containment line. During this time Greenville Water staff assisted the Forestry Commission with establishing the new fire line beyond Slickum Road. We also shuttled firefighters across the reservoir to access these areas. The fire reportedly crossed into Greenville County as the northern perimeter of the fire was breeched. Fire officials implemented tactics similar to the previous burnout efforts because the first one was so successful. As of November 27 the fire affected 9566 acres, was 50% contained with 281 personnel assigned to the incident. By December 3 fire containment was at 84% with the aid of much needed rain. On December 5, South Carolina Forestry Commission officials confirmed that the Pinnacle Mountain Fire was 100% contained. More than 31 miles of firelines encompassed this 10623 acre fire. The estimated cost of fighting the fire is $4.8 million.
Next steps for Greenville Water include restoring roads and implementing erosion control methods. Water sample tests at the reservoir indicate that the fire did not impact water quality. Greenville Water is assisting Clemson University in researching the effects of a wildfire on a watershed and reservoir. We will use this experience to look closely at our controlled burn policy and existing roadway networks.
Community Comes Together
Throughout the incident the surrounding communities donated a significant amount of food, shelter and other necessary items to personnel fighting the fire. During the week of November 21 Greenville Water staff and customers collected donations to support the firefighters and the Table Rock Wesleyan Camp. As a result, a donation of $925 was presented to the camp director during the Thanksgiving Dinner held for incident personnel. The outpouring of donations from around the Upstate left a surplus of various items that did not go to waste as these supplies were forwarded to relief efforts for firefighters in the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area. It took a coordinated effort between Pickens and Greenville County Emergency Management Departments, multiple Upstate fire departments and first responders, Pickens County Sheriff’s Office, South Carolina Forestry Commission, South Carolina National Guard and members of the Central Utah Incident Management Team to fight this fire. Over 300 personnel from as far away as Oregon and S.C. Forestry staff from at least 30 different counties experienced how the citizens in our area came together to show support for their efforts. For example, food costs for a fire of this magnitude should be around $20,000 per day. Costs for the Pinnacle Mountain Fire were $3000 per day because of donations and the generosity of this community. Volunteers and donations made a huge impact.