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May 29, 2012
Late Memorial Day afternoon, Loring Kutchins looked out his window and saw smoke across the waters of Broad Creek.
The smoke was coming from the community of Pamlico and Kutchins’ first impression, he says, was that it was a controlled burn going on just behind a boat at a dock. But his wife Rosalyn, looking through binoculars, saw that it was the docked boat itself that was on fire.Memorial Day boat on fire on upper Broad Creek. The boat was at a dock in the community of Pamlico and a neighbor across the creek took this photo after calling 911. (Photo: Loring Kutchins)
Rosalyn Kutchins called 911. At first, her husband says, the person answering the 911 call said that the boat fire was a Coast Guard matter. The Kutchins were surprised to hear that, but could only wait and hope that others would also call 911. (At least one other neighbor says he did.)
While waiting, Loring Kutchins watched the fire intensify. He reports there were several explosions on the boat. They were “not huge,” he says, but there was “a very pronounced 6-7 foot long jet of gas” that he says stayed lit for a minute.Boat fire at dock on upper Broad Creek. A neighbor says that smoke first appeared, then fire, then some explosions one of which lit “a 6-7 foot long jet of gas”. which can be seen mid-ship in this photo. (Photo: Loring Kutchins)
About twenty minutes after their call to 911, Kutchins says, he saw local firemen arrive. Volunteers from at least two fire stations — Oriental-Southeast Pamlico and Florence-Whortonsville — responded.Volunteer firefighters battling the boat fire on Broad Creek late Memorial Day afternoon. Units from Oriental/Southeast Pamlico and from Florence/Whortonsville responded once alerted about the blaze. The boat owner – who lives in Morehead City – was not at the scene, but was contacted and driving to Pamlico Monday night. (Photo: Loring Kutchins).
Ben Barnett was the Incident Commander for the firefighters and says that when the volunteer firefighters arrived, the fire was “fully involved.” Because it was so far gone, the cause of the fire may officially be described as “undetermined,” though Barnett notes that there was an extension cord leading to the boat. That leaves open the possibility of an electrical short sparking the blaze.
As to the confusion with the 911 call, Barnett makes clear that neighbors who see a boat on fire at a dock should call 911. “The Coast Guard would have to respond,” he says, when there’s a fire on a boat “in navigable waters.”
Contacted on Tuesday, which was his first day on the job, new Pamlico Fire Marshal Chris Murray said that he was “not sure why” a dispatcher would suggest the boat fire was something for the Coast Guard and not local fire departments. “That’s definitely a land-based fire,” Murray says and one that local fire departments would handle.
He adds that the local fire departments can also tackle a fire on a boat “even if it’s in a creek”, so long as the burning vessel is within reach – “a couple hundred feet” — of the fire hoses. Murray, who comes to the top fire job in Pamlico County after more than a dozen years in the Arapahoe fire department, notes that the hoses can throw water as well as fire-suppressing foam on a boat fire. (Getting a heavy pumper truck near the soggy banks of most creeks could, however, be a limiting factor.)
Murray says that the Florence-Whortonsville department has a “foam truck” which was used in Monday’s blaze. That’s desirable, he says, because foam is “a fast suppressant.” That department bought that foam truck in part because of the number of larger homes in the Florence-Whortonsville district.
Bottom line is that local firefighters do respond, as they did Monday, to many boat fires and calling 911 is the thing to do as soon as you see such a fire.