A fire at St. Paul Harbor on Tuesday night that destroyed a 39-foot charter boat was fought by firefighters from Kodiak City Fire Department, Bayside Volunteer Fire Department, the Coast Guard and a community member.
The fire destroyed the F/V Silver Bullet, which was valued at $180,000 as of 2009. It is owned and operated by Gary Salter. The cause of the fire is unknown.
When the fire started in the boat’s cabin, shortly after 11 p.m., Cy St-Amand was on his boat nearby and was the first person on scene. Using fire extinguishers from the dock, he tried to stop the fire from destroying a neighboring boat.
“I heard a loud explosion … I saw a large mushroom cloud, likely from a propane tank,” St-Amand said. “I gathered up dock extinguishers and used them to knock the fire away from the U Rascal.”
St-Amand fought the fire until firefighters arrived on the scene. By then, the boat was already engulfed in flames, said Frank Dorner, deputy fire chief at the City Fire Department.
Firefighters first worked to protect the neighboring boat, and then to suppress the fire, Dorner said.
“Once we had the fire knocked down 50%, it was evident that there was liquid fuel burning, which means we had to deploy foam lines to cover the burning fuel and finish extinguishing the fire,” he said.
After the firefighters arrived, the fire was out within 15 minutes, said Harbormaster Derrik Magnuson.
At one point 15 personnel from both fire stations and the Coast Guard fought the fire, Dorner said.
Through video surveillance from a camera located 30 feet away from the fire, Magnuson estimated the height of flames to be about 12 feet or higher.
The flames melted most of the boat’s mast, Magnuson said.
The F/V Silver Bullet is beyond repair, Dorner said.
“The fire burned hot enough to melt most of the deck on the bow, the cabin and the forward part of the hull,” Magnuson said, adding that there was very little damage to the neighboring boat, the U Rascal.
There was “some buckling of the windows, an electrical cord was burned because it was fairly close,” Magnuson said of damage to the U Rascal. “The life raft on the vessel next to it was melted as well.”
The Coast Guard Kodiak Marine Safety Detachment was investigating the extent of the damage, but there was no pollution or damage to the pier reported, said Nathan Littlejohn, a Coast Guard public affairs specialist.
Gary Salter said he did not know their boat was on fire until he received a call from the Coast Guard.
“My wife and I jumped out of bed. By the time we got there, the fire was out,” Salter said.
He had last been on the boat the previous Sunday after an elk and deer hunting trip.
Salter said he does not know how the fire could have started.
“The preliminary judgment is some sort of electrical short, but there is no way of telling,” Salter said. “There was nothing else on or in the boat that could cause the fire. No heaters, no lamps, nothing plugged in other than the battery chargers. And the fire did not start near the battery chargers.”
Salter has been in the charter business for 27 years and has owned his boat for 17 years.
He said the future is unclear.
“We haven't decided what we are going to do next. I've got lots of options, so we are still figuring it out,” he said.
Salter said he has charter bookings next year and will have to decide if he will buy a new vessel, lease a vessel, or do something else entirely.