While rains blessed the South during the latter part of the winter, parts of the Southeast and the Southwest are still feeling the effects from this past winter's La Nina in terms of the number of wildfires. The cooler-than-average Pacific Ocean current contributes to below-average rainfall in the sunbelt.

While the pattern in the Pacific is now going neutral, the extra dry vegetation lingers. This past winter's La Nina could be the cause of what appears to be a very active brush fire season this year.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), during the period from Jan. 1 through April 3, 2009, nearly 580,000 acres were burned by wildfires in the United States. This figure is approximately 88,000 acres above the 2000-2009 average and the third greatest amount of acreage burned for this period since 1999. The number of fires through March was just over 22,000, or nearly 5,500 fires above the average of 16,600 fires for the 2000-2009 period.

With summer-like heat and lack of rainfall forecast for much of the Southeast and the Northeast this weekend, we may have more incidents of brush fires to contend with in the coming days and weeks. Dry brush and lack of rainfall from the winter, combined with strong sunshine and climbing temperatures have lit the fuse.

A massive brush fire near Myrtle Beach has consumed more than 8,000 acres (estimated) since igniting around noon EDT Wednesday. The land charred by the fire stretches from Conway to North Myrtle Beach. The area is one of the busiest tourist locations in South Carolina and the Atlantic coast of the United States.

Winds gusting up to 30 mph helped fanned the blaze in the early stages. The fire has consumed approximately 50 homes. The fire has forced around 2,500 people to evacuate between Highway 22 and Main Street at Highway 31. Many of the area schools have already closed for Friday.

Winds will ease tonight, but on Friday winds are expected to be from the south and southeast averaging 10 to 20 mph and may continue to cause issues for firefighters. Burning embers could lead to new spot fires in the area.

Myrtle Beach continues to have a rainfall deficit since last summer and beyond. During this period, the region has received only about one third of their normal rainfall. Despite some significant rainfall of late, rainfall from March 1 to April 22 has only been about 50 percent of normal.

Story by AccuWeather.com Expert Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski