NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — More than 70 homes have been destroyed by a blaze that scorched some 19,600 acres near Myrtle Beach.
South Carolina's biggest wildfire in more than three decades — a blaze 4 miles wide — was fed by tinder-dry scrubland and forced thousands to flee.
The fire got within 1½ miles of Route 17, the main coastal road that links beachfront towns. By Thursday evening, the flames were about 3 miles inland of the highway.
Horry County officials said in a statement Thursday night the fire was 40 percent contained.
The blaze scorched nearly 31 square miles over two days and then veered north, heading away from the high-rise hotels that line Myrtle Beach. There were no reports of injuries, and authorities said they had not determined what sparked the flames.
Fueled by dry underbrush and highly combustible swamp peat, the flames forced authorities to evacuate 2,500 people.
Much of the damage was concentrated at Barefoot Resort, the sprawling complex of houses, condominiums and golf courses separated from the main route through Myrtle Beach by the Intracoastal Waterway.
Officials said the blaze appeared to die out at Barefoot Resort by midmorning, only to move parallel to the waterway. Authorities worried it could jump the channel, a canal as wide as a football field that separates the city's main drag from the homes of retirees and people who help run the area's golf courses, hotels and other businesses.
Just a few miles south along the coast, people were unaffected.
The governor issued a state of emergency, and schools closed early Thursday.
But North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley managed to promote the area while announcing the number of homes destroyed.
"Certainly come on to the Grand Strand area and enjoy yourself," Hatley said.