Burning boat causes some anxious moments

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 9:30am
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The Great Salt Pond was a scene of fire and smoke, veiled by a thick blanket of fog, on the night of Thursday, June 21, as a private boat caught fire and was completely destroyed. 

Harbormaster Steve Land said he was at the boat house working at 8:30 p.m. when he received a call about the fire. Land grabbed another employee and hopped in the Harbormaster boat to get to the scene.

Land said it was so foggy “I couldn’t really see how big the fire was.” En route to the scene he called the Block Island Fire Department, who met Land at the scene. When they arrived at the burning boat, Land said he asked the boatowner, Max Balmforth, to see if there was anyone on the boat. Balmforth told Land he was the only occupant.

Another immediate concern was the drifting of the burning vessel. Its mooring lines caught fire and the boat started drifting through the mooring field. “When the fire burned the mooring lines, that made us a little nervous,” said Fire Chief Pete Gemmp. An anchor was thrown onto the burning boat to drag it out of the mooring field “to a more secure location,” said Land.

“It was a massive fire,” said Land. “It took about four hours to put it out.” The fire was eventually extinguished by the vessel taking on so much water it sank. Mike Ernst, the Assistant Fire Chief, and Department members Kirk Littlefield and Chris Reeves helped pull the boat up onto the boat ramp at the Coast Guard Station. Jaixon Hall was also part of the crew out on the water.

Land said that after the fire had been extinguished, there was “no recoverable oil found at the scene.”

Gemmp also said all the fuel had either “dissipated or burned off.”

Both Gempp and Land praised the work done by the departments.

“Everybody did an excellent, excellent job,” said Gempp. “No one was hurt.” Gempp also said the gear recently purchased by the Fire Department may have been “a big expense, but it really helped.”

An investigation undertaken by the state Fire Marshal’s office determined that the fire was not deliberate, said Gemmp.