Crime

6 abandon boat as it catches fire on Lake Whatcom

Firefighters extinguish a burning boat on Lake Whatcom in Bellingham

South Whatcom Fire Authority firefighters work to put out a fire on a burning boat on Thursday, April 7, at Lake Whatcom in Bellingham, Wash.
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South Whatcom Fire Authority firefighters work to put out a fire on a burning boat on Thursday, April 7, at Lake Whatcom in Bellingham, Wash.

Six people escaped a powerboat fire Thursday afternoon, April 7, on Lake Whatcom.

Five teenage boys and a man had been using the roughly 17-foot fiberglass boat to tow a blue inner tube as they enjoyed the 70-degree afternoon sunshine. They were playing a few hundred feet off the shoreline that’s between Geneva and Strawberry Point.

A kayaker on her first trip onto the lake, Carole Gainor, said she’d been keeping her distance from the motorboat, due to the noise and the wake, when it burst into flames around 2:45 p.m. The kids jumped into the water about a quarter of the width of the lake from shore, she said.

A neighbor, Lee Hallock, 80, had been watching the boat for a while from his home to the south, in the 2700 block of Lake Whatcom Boulevard, before he heard a loud boom. He saw tall flames and smoke, perhaps 350 feet out. The boys clung to the inner tube until a passing seaplane pilot landed. Some climbed aboard, some held onto the plane floats.

Eventually another boat brought the six ashore.

South Whatcom Fire Authority firefighters arrived to find the boat aflame about 80 feet off shore, said Assistant Fire Chief Rod Topel.

On land the shirtless boys compared whose leg hair had been singed the most. Otherwise, no one was hurt. They told a reporter they’d heard a popping sound in the inboard motor just before the fire erupted.

Meanwhile, firefighters towed the boat around with their own boat, in figure eights, as it continued to burn near Hallock’s wooden dock. As the fire died down they brought the boat closer to shore, nudging the flaming wreckage against the edge of the dock for a moment, but leaving no serious damage. They extinguished the flames with fire hoses on the shoreline.

Sheriff’s deputies planned to coordinate the recovery of what was left of the boat — a melted hull, a blackened inboard motor and not much else — with the state Department of Ecology.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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