Suspected engine fire forces evacuation from Alaska ferry at Bellingham terminal
A morning fire aboard a ferry docked at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal has delayed — for at least a day — the vessel's scheduled 6 p.m. Friday departure.
No injuries were reported in the 8:15 a.m. Friday fire aboard the MV Columbia, a 418-foot car ferry and the flagship of the Alaska Marine Highway System, fire and ferry officials said.
Alaska Marine Highway System spokeswoman Aurah Landau said the ship is now set to leave Bellingham at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. She said passengers should call 360-676-8445 for updates after 8 a.m. Saturday.
Crew members saw black smoke coming from a bow vent at waterline level and at the door to the bow thruster engine room, said MV Columbia's Chief Mate Ryan Seaver.
Seaver said the ship's fire alarm was sounded and crew members went to assigned posts, including the ship's firefighting team.
A total of 190 passengers and 128 cars were aboard the Columbia when it arrived at the Fairhaven terminal about 8 a.m., and about half had disembarked before an evacuation was ordered, Landau said.
Landau said passengers left the ship and firefighters searched to make sure no one remained aboard.
An automatic system sealed the doors to the engine room and replaced air in the room with carbon dioxide, removing oxygen that's required for a fire to burn, Landau said.
Crew members and engineers were scheduled to inspect the room Friday afternoon, Landau said.
Bellingham Fire Department sent two engine crews to assist, said Assistant Chief Bill Hewett.
"(Ferry crews) shut the door and they activated the boat's on-board CO2 fire-suppression system," Hewett said.
Bellingham Fire Capt. Brian Flannelly said firefighters' monitoring devices and sensors showed the presence of carbon monoxide, a gas that's produced in a fire.
It was contained to the room that houses the bow thruster engine, which Seaver described as a two- to three-story compartment with a floor area the size of a two-car garage.
Cause of the fire remained undetermined until a damage assessment could be conducted, Landau said.
"With it being a confined space, we're not sure exactly what went on in there, let alone what started the fire," Hewett said.
Seaver said the bow thruster engine drives the bow independently of the ship's main engines. It can't sail without the engine.
In addition to the engine, the room contains heavy electrical wiring and a tank of diesel fuel.
According to the Alaska Marine Highway's website, the M/V Columbia was built in 1974 in Seattle.
It can carry 600 passengers and 134 vehicles.
The State of Alaska Marine Highway Ferry System offers year-round ferry service from Bellingham to the Inside Passage communities and Haines, Alaska, according to the Viking Travel, Inc., website. According to the ferry schedule, the Columbia arrives from Ketchikan, Alaska at 8 a.m. Fridays and departs for a return trip at 6 p.m.