South Carolina's fire season usually ends when July rolls around, but this year's hot, dry weather has firefighters swamped with work.
In response to firefighter fatigue and near-drought conditions, the state Forestry Commission and some local fire officials have banned outdoor burning in some areas and called on residents to voluntarily forgo outdoor burning in the rest of the state, including Beaufort and Jasper counties.
A burn ban was issued Wednesday for Hilton Head Island, according to town Fire & Rescue Division spokeswoman Joheida Fister. In force until further notice, the ban prohibits the burning of yard debris, recreational fires and any other type of outdoor burning, Fister said.
Bluffton issued a burn ban earlier this year after dry conditions and high winds fueled a spate of local wildfires. That order was lifted in February.
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No other burn bans have been issued locally. The Forestry Commission on Tuesday prohibited burning in unincorporated areas of 14 Pee Dee counties.
The state's 32 other counties, including Beaufort and Jasper, were placed on "red flag" alert, which warns people that wildfire danger is increasing and that trash and debris fires could be harder to control. The Forestry Commission asks people under the alert to voluntarily forgo outdoor burning.
The commission's ban is in place in the Pee Dee mostly in response to firefighter fatigue, spokesman Scott Hawkins said.
"We are in a bit of a bind because we have so much equipment and manpower in one place," Hawkins said. "Moving all that leaves other areas of the state a bit more vulnerable."
Forestry officials reported 320 wildfires last month, one of the busiest Junes of the decade. More than two dozen have burned across the state in the past day, and several remain active.
The biggest fire of the year, at more than 750 acres, is still burning in Horry County.
The forecast in South Carolina calls for a good chance of afternoon thunderstorms the rest of the week. That could be a blessing if they bring fire-extinguishing downpours. But they could be a curse if they bring only lightning that sparks new blazes or strong winds that spread fire, Hawkins said.
"We're hoping for the best," he added. "These guys need some rest."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.