Matt Wilson, an islander, awoke early Monday morning in Burton to the sound of a loud bang followed by a larger blast that rattled his windows.
A 40-foot yacht moored in Quartermaster Marina had exploded just after 4 a.m., igniting a fire that spread to another vessel, later causing both to sink and damaging three other boats. There were no reported injuries.
By the time Wilson dressed and went outside, both vessels were totally engulfed in flames shooting high above the water, dense, black smoke rising into the early, cold dawn.
“It felt very unstable and unsafe,” he said. “My first instinct was to rush down there and see if people needed help, but then you just got the sense that it could be a cascade of boats going off. It just didn’t feel safe in any way, shape or form, from where I was.”
As Vashon Island Fire & Rescue crews quickly arrived, Quartermaster Yacht Club members directed by the dockmaster were attempting to cut away other boats and move them from the area. Someone was desperately trying to turn on a hose to put out the flames, according to Wilson. He added that while fire crews had the daunting task of getting down the hill and across to the end of the dock, they had mobilized within minutes and made their way there despite the risk from the inferno.
“And you didn’t know what else could be going up because, for all they knew, the next boat was about to blow,” he said, lauding the response.
The first boat sank within 30 minutes after firefighters started knocking down the blaze with assistance from the Tacoma fireboat, according to VIFR Assistant Fire Chief Bob Larsen, the officer in charge at the scene. Soon after, the second boat went down.
Yacht club Commodore Jeep Brockway said the wrecks, one fully submerged and another partially jutting out of the water, are boomed off to soak up any oil and fuel released. The state Department of Natural Resources will monitor pollution, and a salvage boat is currently pumping the remaining fuel out of both vessels, which are still attached to the dock. The next step will be to raise the wrecks.
The dock was slick and difficult to traverse without slipping, Brockway noted, adding to the challenge of putting out the fire.
“It was a busy morning,” he said.
There were five fires on the island in March. The cause of the incident at the marina is being investigated.