LESSONS FROM A TRAGEDY: A MARINA FIRE IN WASHINGTON STATE TAKES TWO LIVES
December 5, 2012
In the pre-dawn hours of March 30, 2012, a fire broke out inside a 12,000 square foot covered boathouse on G Dock in Squalicum Harbor Marina in the city of Bellingham, Wash. The boathouse included thirteen slips enclosed within a continuous metal roof, back wall and two ends; all supported by a wood structure. Fuel tanks aboard the twelve boats moored inside were likely topped for the winter. Propane tanks and other fuel sources were stored in the boats and boathouses. Whatever the cause of the fire, still unknown, it lit up the night in Bellingham Bay.
Wind and Fire
Shortly after the first call to the fire department around 5:30 a.m., a liveaboard couple dialed 911 from their cabin in a boat moored in one of the G Dock boathouse berths. The fire fighters heading to the marina were immediately alerted. They were met with a locked entrance gate, which took time to retrieve a master key. Once inside they sprinted toward G Dock with forceful-entry tools and attempted to locate the couple.
The Bellingham Fire Department incident analysis report, dated Sept. 6, 2012, described the situation:
“There’s heavy smoke here. We’re in rescue mode. There are approximately five boathouses fully involved. The flames and falling boathouse material are blocking access this far onto the dock. We’re also fighting a heavy headwind.”
The couple remained in communication with the emergency operator for several minutes before the phone went dead. Unfortunately, the firemen found it impossible to get into or near the boathouse. Fire Marshal Napier surmises the couple was trapped in their cabin. The fire was so intense it allowed no escape route.
“Fighting this fire was particularly challenging for many reasons,” said Napier. “G Dock is 1,200 ft. from the main entrance, one of the longest distances of any marina in the country. Remodeling work was underway so the new dock lighting was installed but not connected. We were in a blackout situation. Onshore winds were blowing smoke and fumes back toward the firefighters. They had to wear breathing equipment (SCBA) which further reduced visibility.”
TO READ THE COMPLETE COPY OF THE ARTICLE, DOWNLOAD THE PDF.