Brush fire envelopes small marsh island near Hilton Head; spots continue to smolder

astice@islandpacket.comApril 3, 2012 

A small marsh island off Hilton Head Island was engulfed in flames early Tuesday, leading to an hours-long battle against the brush fire that left hot spots that continue to smolder.

Firefighters arrived at uninhabited Sunset Island, located in a tributary of Old House Creek, shortly after 4 a.m.

By that time, "the flames were taller than the trees," according to Larry Jordan, who lives nearby. Town of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division Chief Lavarn Lucas said half the island was burning.

The last crew left the scene at 1 p.m. after containing the blaze to a few spots that may lead to smoke and haze in nearby areas such as Spanish Wells Road through today.

"It has been extinguished as best as can be at this point in time," Lucas said. "The ground cover is a very thick, peet-like material, and so there will be some small, smoldering spots probably at least (through today), unless we get some rain."

The small island of trees and vegetation is connected to the mainland by a recently completed 955-foot walkway that drew the ire of neighbors when island owner Jeff Myers received a permit to build it.

Myers, who built the walkway to connect Sunset Island to his property at the end of Tansyleaf Drive, said firefighters were able to access the island because of it. The walkway was not damaged by the fire, fire officials said.

Myers said he had the brush cleared from a portion of the island last week but kept vegetation on the remaining half as a buffer. He said he did that to be "neighborly," after nearby residents complained to Hilton Head Town Council that the walkway would be an eyesore, hinder navigation and destroy bird habitat.

The brush he hadn't removed is what caught on fire, he said. Construction workers and landscapers didn't work on the island Monday, but neighbors have occasionally called him to report trespassers, he said.

"I'm heartsick that we lost some trees out there, but they say it will grow back prettier by next year," Myers said.

Hilton Head Fire & Rescue has not determined a cause of the fire, which is under investigation.

"We have nothing to suspect," Lucas said. "There is no electricity out there or anything like that, no lightning or anything last night. We have no reason to declare it suspicious."

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