South Carolina forest fire threatens homes, forces evacuations; families huddle in church

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CONWAY, S.C. (AP) -- A wind-whipped forest fire forced the evacuation of 60 homes and threatened to burn several houses as smoke billowed above this small city near the South Carolina coast Sunday, officials said.

The fire, reported at 1 p.m., had burned roughly 250 acres with flames creeping to within inches of an unspecified number of homes, Horry County Fire Rescue spokesman Todd Cartner said.

Dozens of coastal fire departments responded, and authorities urged people to stay away from a wedged-shaped area just north of the city that was bounded on three sides by several miles of roads.

A portion of a highway north of Conway closed because of low visibility and the need to move fire equipment, Cartner said. People who fled their homes were congregating at a nearby church.

Cartner said he did not know how many people had evacuated.

Conway, a city of about 11,000 people, is about 15 miles northwest of Myrtle Beach.

The eastern half of the state was under a red flag fire warning, with winds gusting up to 30 mph and low humidity, according to the National Weather Service. The ground also is dry, which creates dangerous wildfire conditions.