Here’s what caused that black plume of smoke at Squalicum Harbor Saturday morning

Black plume of smoke visible from most of Bellingham

Bellingham Fire and Coast Guard crews respond to a a boat fire Saturday, March 16, 2019, at Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham, WA.
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Bellingham Fire and Coast Guard crews respond to a a boat fire Saturday, March 16, 2019, at Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham, WA.

A 58-foot commercial fishing vessel tied up at Squalicum Harbor suffered heavy damage and created a plume of black smoke visible through much of Bellingham Saturday morning after catching fire.

“Any time you have a boat fire, it can be extremely dangerous,” Bellingham Fire Department Battalion Chief Cary Gustafson told The Bellingham Herald, referencing chemicals, heavy machinery and booms that can all be part of marine fires. “It was good that this one occurred during daylight when we could see things better.”

Bellingham Fire crews, including Marine 5, and the United States Coast Guard responded at 10:54 a.m. to 2603 S. Harbor Loop, according to PulsePoint. Gustafson said they were directed to Gate 5, which is primarily used by commercial fishing vessels.

A picture sent to The Bellingham Herald by Brendan Pape showed a vessel named the Challenger with its bow engulfed in flames while it was tied up in a slip.

“We arrived to find heavy fire in the upper pilot house and the forward portion of the boat,” Gustafson told The Herald.

Though Gustafson said there were reports that there might be some ammunition on the boat, “I did not hear any noise that sounded like ammunition going off.”

Crews were able to effectively and quickly start putting water on flames, Gustafson said, thanks in part to improvements the Port of Bellingham made to the equipment and water supply available on the dock. Marine 5 also put water to help extinguish the fire.

Though the upper pilot house and deck had heavy damage, Gustafson said he believe damage below deck was limited to that caused by water.

Boats that were tied up nearby also were already in the process of being repositioned by the time fire crews arrived Gustafson said.

Gustafson said that “pretty much every piece of fire fighting equipment within the city limits of Bellingham” responded to the fire, but that other agencies from throughout the county stepped up to cover other calls while Bellingham Fire was busy at the marina. Crews were on scene for approximately three and a half hours.

The cause of the fire is being investigated, Gustafson said.

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.