Gusty winds threaten to further spread the destructive wildfire raging near Myrtle Beach, S.C. Winds by the afternoon will increase to 10 to 20 mph. Gusts to near 30 mph are anticipated. In addition to the actual fire, embers could get blown and ignite new blazes.

With the winds from the south, the blaze and embers should get steered north of the fire's current position. Residents that live in this area are being urged to pay close attention to local media and take immediate action if an evacuation order is given. Shelters have been set up along the immediate coastline since the winds will save this tourist district from the blaze.

Showers and thunderstorms are in the forecast for eastern South Carolina this afternoon. While the rain would definitely be welcome, the thunderstorms will likely remain just west of the fire zone.

The massive brush fire has consumed nearly 20,000 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.

The fire has charred approximately 70 homes and damaged around 100 others.

The fire forced around 2,500 people to evacuate between Highway 22 and Main Street at Highway 31. Many area schools have closed for today.

Myrtle Beach continues to have a rainfall deficit since last summer and beyond. During this period, the region 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.

This past winter's La Nina could be the cause of what appears to be a very active brush fire season this year. The cooler-than-average Pacific Ocean current contributes to below-average rainfall in the South. While the pattern in the Pacific is now going neutral, the extra dry vegetation lingers and provides fuel for any fire that ignites.

Story by AccuWeather.com Meteorologists Kristina Pydynowski and Alex Sosnowski