By Cole Dittmer, Emmy Errante and Miriah Hamrick
The 2014 Labor Day holiday weekend at Wrightsville Beach proved less taxing on local law enforcement and public safety officials than Memorial Day and July Fourth.
To kick off the weekend, Wrightsville Beach Fire Department crews contained a house fire at No. 4 Palmetto Drive Saturday, Aug. 30.
Residents of the house said the fire occurred around 3:30 p.m. when they used a smoker to grill food on the back porch. When the smoker was left unattended for a few minutes, a fire started, singeing the side of the house and burning a 1-foot hole in the floor of the porch.
Neighbors were first to the scene, using a nearby garden hose to contain the fire until fire crews arrived. Capt. Matt Holland of the Wrightsville Beach Fire Department said they were able to quickly extinguish the fire.
“There was no extension to the inside of the house,” Holland said, “and just a little bit of smoke damage on the ceiling, so we cleared all the smoke from inside the house.”
No injuries were reported. The incident was the second house fire on the beach in four days.
Many holiday beach-goers escaped the heat by venturing into the clear blue waters of Wrightsville Beach Saturday. While the ocean appeared inviting, Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue flew yellow flags on the lifeguard stands to warn swimmers of moderately rough waters with the potential for rip currents, which persisted throughout the weekend.
As the tide dropped late Saturday afternoon, ocean rescue personnel were called into action to pull swimmers out of rip currents. Ocean rescue director Dave Baker said as of about 5:45 p.m. they had responded to a dozen calls.
“It’s really picked up in the last hour because we just passed low tide,” Baker said. “It’s nothing really bad, though. When we got there people were in close enough that they could stand up.”
Baker explained rip currents are more likely to form in the period two hours prior to low tide and one hour after.
Sunday, Aug. 31
The largest crowds of the holiday weekend descended on Wrightsville Beach Sunday, Aug. 31, with one beachgoer arrested after three run-ins with law enforcement.
Wrightsville Beach Park Ranger Shannon Slocum responded to a texted tip notifying him of a group near Public Beach Access No. 32 at Arrindale Street smoking cigarettes and drinking around 1:15 p.m. When Slocum responded, no one in the group was smoking. He reiterated the smoking and drinking policy, and no civil penalties were issued.
Shortly after Slocum’s interaction with the group, Wrightsville Beach Police officers S. Appler and D. Holmes noticed alcohol possession and issued tickets to the group. The officers alerted Slocum to the situation, and moments later, he received another texted tip that the group was still drinking.
Slocum, Appler and Holmes all responded to the third incident around 2 p.m., when Jeremy David Spencer, 27 years old, became angry and was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of drunk and disorderly conduct.
Spencer was also issued a civil penalty for littering before his arrest. Slocum said Spencer warned officers he would throw the ticket on the ground if issued, which he did.
Spencer was transported to the New Hanover County jail on a secured bond of $1,000.
Ocean rescue lifeguards also faced a busy day with Captain Jeremy Owens reporting approximately 15 rescues for the day around 7 p.m.
Ocean rescue also responded to a couple of missing children reports and minor medical problems. Owens said all emergencies were safely handled and addressed.
“It was a beautiful day and we had a big crowd and everyone went home safe,” Owens said.
Labor Day Monday Sept. 1
Just before ocean rescue crews left the beach for the day around 7:30 p.m., Monday, Sept. 1, Owens said lifeguards had only responded to a few rip current rescues and a couple minor medical calls. Those rescues occurred at stand No. 13 at the south end, and stand Nos. 5,6 and 8 near the middle of the island.
Earlier that day troopers from North Carolina State Highway Patrol set up a license check west of the Salisbury Street Bridge for the westbound lane. Around 4:45 p.m. First Sergeant Troy Pope said his troopers did not charge anyone with driving while impaired but did issue 12 license-related citations during the 90 minutes troopers were stationed there.
Around 5 p.m. Slocum said he wrote six citations throughout the day for alcohol or glass on the beach. Slocum said he did have to ask a few people to stay out of the north end bird sanctuary and also broke up a protest at Johnnie Mercer’s Pier. Slocum said the 10-15 people gathered were protesting hydraulic fracking and did not have a permit. A beachgoer had called in to complain about the protest.
Fire department Capt. Matt Holland said fire crews responded to one call all day, a traffic accident around noon on Causeway Drive near Mellow Mushroom. The incident involved a car and motorcycle and one patient was transferred to New Hanover Regional Medical Center with unspecified injuries.