Fire totals boat in Deer Harbor

The fully engulfed Bayliner. - Karen Parsons photo
The fully engulfed Bayliner.
— image credit: Karen Parsons photo

The engine room of a 35-foot Bayliner caught fire at the start of Labor Day weekend.

Orcas Fire and Rescue responded to the blaze aboard the boat "Today" in Deer Harbor Marina at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 2. Firefighters were unable to save the vessel, which sunk and was later towed to Cayou Cay Marina by Vessel Assist.

We bought the boat around Memorial Day weekend,” said owner Mark Redis, who lives in Mt. Vernon. “We worked really hard to get this boat and we'd only had it for three months.”

Redis says the fire likely originated with an electrical short.

The fire appeared to be below deck in the engine room,” said Division Chief Patrick Shepler. “There was a strong electrical smell when the boat was initially approached.”

The Coast Guard was notified and arrived minutes after the first Orcas firefighters. The Redis family had left the boat half an hour before the flames were spotted; they received a call about the emergency while eating dinner. A quick-thinking bystander had towed the burning vessel away from the dock and into the narrow channel, where it was then anchored.

An initial fire attack and evaluation was made by Orcas firefighters using a floatable pump they brought aboard the 33-foot Coast Guard vessel. Shepler also requested the response of the fire boat “Confidence” from Fire District 3 on San Juan Island.

When Redis and his wife and their 15-year-old daughter returned, they discovered their beloved 10-year-old African Gray Parrot named Esa was trapped on board. The boat was heavily involved at that point, and firefighters deemed a rescue attempt to be futile.

No one was hurt and there was no environmental or property damage, but losing my wife's bird was the worst part of the whole thing,” Redis said. “Esa loved going on our boat ... my wife took her to work.”

Shepler said a handful of spectators at the marina were “concerned why firefighters were not putting continuous streams of water on the burning boat.”

There are always three overarching goals on every incident, and in this order of importance: life safety, incident mitigation and property conservation,” Shepler said. “This vessel had about 50 gallons of gasoline aboard. We were concerned with protecting the marina, other boats and with protecting the environment. We could have mixed too much water with gasoline and had a running fuel fire that would endanger the marina and the environment. Our Incident Command Team agreed that for both overall safety and limiting environmental impact, our strategy of letting the fuel burn off was the most mindful one.”

The Island Oil Spill Association set up a 600-foot oil protection boom from a safe distance, even before the fire was extinguished, to stop chemicals or debris from drifting into a nearby estuary. Orcas Fire also consulted with the Department of Ecology.

After a preliminary investigation of the area by the Coast Guard, it appears that no petroleum products were released into the water.

Redis says it was a stroke of luck that he didn't fuel up before leaving his slip in La Conner.

I have never gone away for the weekend without filling up my boat fully with gas before leaving the dock,” he said. “But that Friday I was behind schedule, and I knew I had enough gas to get there. So when the boat caught on fire there was 50 gallons of fuel rather than 175.”

Redis says his daughter is scared to go boating again.

If we were on the boat when it happened, we probably would have died,” he said.


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