Feb. 22--LA CONNER -- At least seven boats moored at J-Dock at Shelter Bay Marina were destroyed and six sank during a blaze that broke out late Friday afternoon.
Several other boats were damaged. Nobody was injured, and early damage estimates put losses at more than $1 million.
Fire District 13 Chief Roy Horn said it was unclear late Friday what caused the fire.
Firefighters responded to the scene shortly after 4:30 p.m. At their worst, flames shot 40 to 50 feet in the air, sending an enormous plume of black smoke into the sky.
Firefighters from several departments battled the blaze from the shore, including a ladder truck hosing the flames from above and crews shooting water from the ramp down to the dock. Anacortes Fire Department sent its fireboat to assist.
By roughly 6:20 p.m., crews had the blaze under control. Shortly after, units from the U.S. Coast Guard and Washington Department of Ecology arrived to take over command.
The county's tender strike team was called in to deliver water as there are no fire hydrants near the dock, which complicated firefighting efforts. Foam was brought in to smother the flames caused by leaking diesel fuel. Two people were stranded on the dock, but crews were able to rescue them.
"When I got there, four boats were burning," said Horn, who was one of the first on scene. "The worst thing was that ugly black smoke."
Horn said all the departments worked well together and were extremely helpful. Pat McGarry, chair of the harbor committee and owner of a 50-foot yacht that sank in the fire, said the dock held the largest slips in the marina.
He said his yacht had 400 gallons of diesel fuel on board. McGarry said all the boats at that dock held diesel, and thousands of gallons could be leaking into the bay.
"You keep it full in the winter," McGarry said.
McGarry, who lives on the waterfront across the bay from the marina, said when he first heard about the fire, he tried to drive to the marina to rescue his boat, but the way was blocked.
He returned home and set out with neighbor Robert Hays and another community member in a 10-foot dinghy to help rescue boats.
It was too late to save M c G a r r y 's $ 3 0 0 , 0 0 0 -- plus yacht, but the trio unmoored and towed four other yachts to safety with a tiny 15-horsepower engine.
One rescued boat, the "Chateau," had one side toasted like a marshmallow.
"We live here. Any boater would do the same. These are just our neighbors and friends," Hays said.
"That's all we could do was try to help them."
"Just get as many of the boats that weren't damaged away from the dock, that was our biggest concern," McGarry said.
He and the others in the dinghy were congratulated by some of the many onlookers who watched the blaze burn for nearly three hours.
"Your boat becomes part of your family. Watching it die like that is tough," McGarry said as he watched boats sink into the bay from his backyard. "You shouldn't care about an inanimate thing like that, but you do."
Reporter Mark Stayton: 360-416-2112, mstayton@ skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Mark_SVH, Facebook. com/byMarkStayton
Reporter Russell Hixson: 360-416-2149, rhixson@ skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Russell_SVH, Face book.com/RussellReports
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