FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 28, 2009
Trial for State vs. Mark Torchi
(North Myrtle Beach,SC)–-Today Mark Torchi pleaded guilty on charges of allowing fire to spread to another’s land and failure to notify the SC Forestry Commission about an outdoor debris burn. While much attention has been paid to this case due to the subsequent Highway 31 Fire, it is important to remember that the charges made against Mr. Torchi (in the form of two tickets) and today’s trial relate only to the debris burn he conducted on his property on 4/18/2009. Mr. Torchi at no time has been held criminally responsible for the larger wildfire. Today’s verdict finds him guilty solely for those offences for which he was ticketed, not the Highway 31 Fire.
A few points to remember about this case and the investigation:
- After the SCFC responded to the Highway 31 Fire on 4/22/09, an investigation was conducted to determine the origin and cause of that fire.
- SCFC Investigators used witness statements, along with their experience in wildland fire origin & cause investigation (documentation of scientific wildfire spread indicators) to document that Mr. Torchi lit an illegal backyard debris burn on 4/18/09. That fire spread onto the adjoining property and Horry County fire officials responded.
- According to dispatch records, Mr. Torchi did not notify the SCFC before conducting an outdoor burn, as required by Title 48, Chapter 35-10 of the SC Code of Laws, the Notification and Precautions Law. $262.50 maximum fine. (1st ticket)
- SCFC Law Enforcement issued a summons to Mr. Torchi for a violation of Title 16, Chapter 11-180 of the SC Code of Laws, Allowing fire to spread to lands or property of another. $470.00 maximum fine. (2nd ticket)
Point of Origin for the Highway 31 Fire:
Based on wildland fire spread indicators, the Forestry Commission believes that the Highway 31 Fire that the agency responded to on 4/22/09 originated from the debris burn lit by Mr. Torchi on 4/18. It is not uncommon for wildfires, especially fires occurring in areas with heavy amounts of fuel, to rekindle at a later time, when relative humidity drops and windspeed increases. During a wildfire origin and cause investigation, specially trained investigators with knowledge of fire behavior examine burn patterns, fire scene evidence, and possible ignition sources. This information, combined with information obtained from witnesses, is utilized to determine the origin and cause of the fire.
Perspective on wildland fire in SC:
The Forestry Commission hopes this fire and its subsequent trial will serve as a teaching opportunity going forward. In our state, escaped debris burns accounted for 43.68% of the wildfires the SCFC responded to last year. This is the largest cause of wildfires in SC. Last year there were 18,082 backyard debris and piled debris notifications in Horry County and 335,495 statewide. The SCFC conducted 982 fire investigations last year and prosecuted 278 fire-related tickets across the state.
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For more information, call Scott Hawkins at (803) 896-8820.
The SC Forestry Commission’s mission is to protect and develop South Carolina’s forest resource. For every $1.00 invested by SC in the Commission, the industry produces more than $1,300.00 of economic impact.