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Current Events and Issues

Hurricane Isaias shows why storm fire safety matters

Posted: Aug. 27, 2020

The town of Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, experienced several fires during and after Hurricane Isaias.

Photo: WSOC TV/Chris Johnson/Reann Eaton

On Aug. 3 around 11 p.m., Hurricane Isaias made landfall at Ocean Isle Beach as a Category 1 hurricane. Local authorities issued voluntary evacuations two days earlier. Residents knew that flooding would be a concern, but no one expected the fires that occurred over the next few days.

As the storm came ashore with 85 mph winds, residents reported that an electrical transformer exploded. Wind-driven flames from two separate fires resulted in the destruction of seven houses. Flood waters up to 4 feet delayed the response from fire departments in the surrounding area.

Storm surge damaged many vehicles parked underneath structures. At 1 a.m. on Aug. 6, another fire started, this time caused by a car battery flooded with salt water that ignited under a house. One person was injured and airlifted to a hospital. Three houses were destroyed in the fire and three others were damaged.

Following the second fire, the mayor requested that residents remove all vehicles affected by flooding from underneath structures. She also recommended disconnecting vehicle batteries.

Despite making landfall as a “weak” Category 1 hurricane, the wind and storm surge from Isaias caused significant fire safety problems for Ocean Isle Beach.

Before a storm

If your coastal community is threatened by a tropical storm or hurricane, encourage residents to evacuate. Before they leave, ask them to remove combustible items near electrical transformers and to disconnect batteries from vehicles—including those in golf carts and lawn mowers—parked in flood-prone areas.

When it’s safe to return home

Ask residents and property managers to:

  • Remove debris from around electrical transformers.
  • Push or tow flood-damaged vehicles from underneath structures.
  • Disconnect vehicle batteries, and never start an engine if a vehicle is submerged.
  • Arrange for a licensed electrician to check flooded homes for electrical damage.

Help to make sure that your community is ready for severe weather events and members understand the fire risks that come with them. Visit our Severe Weather Fire Safety page for outreach resources on fire safety before, during and after a severe storm.

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