The 90-foot fishing vessel Marlins II suffered a catastrophic fire while moored in the Westport Marina on Thursday afternoon.
South Beach Regional Fire Authority went aboard and fought the blaze while other agencies and mariners lent assistance, preventing the boat’s total loss. No injuries from the department or crew were reported. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
The initial fire call came at 6:08 p.m. said SBRFA Battalion Chief Daryl Brown.
“We had report from dispatch that there were smoke and flames seen prior to our arrival and thought the fire might have been in the engine room,” Brown said. “However it was more toward the galley.”
The intense heat from the fire, contained by the metal superstructure, repulsed initial efforts to make inroads on the fire, leading the dozen responding firefighters to start their attack from the outside, working in.
“We were able to gain access and deployed a few lines to cool the fire,” Brown said. “Gaining access was initially difficult due to the extreme heat. We deployed what we call a transitional attack.”
After about an hour and four attempts, firefighters were able to get inside the superstructure and attack the fire directly. The fire was deemed out not long after 9 p.m., Brown said.
A particular nightmare
Fire at sea is a singularly dangerous and unforgiving environment for firefighters and mariners, said Chief Dennis Benn of the SBRFA.
“They are difficult to navigate. You can look at a house and guess (the layout),” Benn said in an interview. “With a boat they’re very narrow corridors. There’s holes to the engine room you can fall in. It’s very dangerous.”
Difficulties in ventilating the vessel, which amounts to a steel box concentrating the heat, and operating on a wet, narrow float also pose their own challenges, Brown said.
“The heat is contained in a metal box — it’s a very hot fire,” Brown said. “Ventilation is more difficult. They can be more disorienting.”
To combat the disorientation that can be caused by an unfamiliar vessel, Brown said the fire department goes down annually and does walkthroughs of larger vessels in case of future fire. Firefighters who have crewed aboard fishing boats also bring that knowledge to the department, Brown said.
“We go annually and tour these larger vessels to get an idea of the layout,” Brown said. “Fortunately within our community, many of our people have a fisherman background.”
There are also other considerations, such as the risk of flooding the vessel as they attempt to extinguish the fire, a consideration that’s less of an issue ashore, Benn said.
“You have to gauge your water use. You don’t want to sink the boat,” Benn said. “You have to balance between fire suppression and gallons per minute.”
Brown noted the rapid willingness of other members of the community, from the Coast Guard, Port of Grays Harbor, the state’s Department of Ecology, the Westport Police Department, and even other fishermen in assisting firefighters as they fought the fire aboard the vessel.
“It was a very collaborative effort,” Brown said. “Everyone contributed and worked very hard on this fire specifically. It was very labor intensive.”
The Coast Guard received word of the fire not long after the fire department and put out to assist, said Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew Down, the operations petty officer for Coast Guard Station Grays Harbor.
“As soon as they realized what was happening, they launched an asset, a 47-foot motor lifeboat,” Dowd said of the duty crews in an interview. “Our main objective when we got on scene was to move boats around and prevent the spread of the fire.”
Even other fishing crews stepped in to help, Brown said.
“There was a lot of community support. There were other fishermen that were assisting by providing lighting and things. That’s huge,” Brown said. “That’s one of the things that I admire about this community. They’re very close knit. They protect their fishing industry. They’re one big family.”
Westport Marina General Manager Molly Bold thanked all the responding agencies in a news release.
“We are grateful for the timely and experienced handling of the situation by our first responders,” Bold said. “The South Beach Regional Fire Authority faced a challenging scene of gusty winds, heavy rain and near freezing temperatures while the US Coast Guard and other agencies were quick to assist.”
What comes next
While the damage to the superstructure of the vessel is substantial, the damage didn’t extend to the hull. The vessel does not appear to be leaking any pollutants at this time, Dowd said, though it has been cordoned off as a precautionary measure.
“I believe it was salvageable. The engine room is still intact,” Benn said. “They’re just gonna have to replace everything in the wheelhouse.”
The origin of the fire was in the galley area, Benn said, but the precise cause is unknown and unlikely to be discernible with the level of damage.
Marina staff will be working with state and local agencies to determine environmental impact and damage to infrastructure, according to the news release.
Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or email@example.com.