A 42-foot recreational vessel sank to the ocean’s floor early Thursday morning after catching fire in Ucluelet’s small craft harbour.
Ucluelet Fire Chief Rick Geddes was the first responder to arrive at the scene at the outer boat basin around 1:30 a.m. and said the vessel was fully engulfed when he arrived.
“A big fear was the proximity to the other vessels around it, because there are some people sleeping on those vessels,” Geddes told the Westerly News. “One of the biggest things we want to try to figure out is if there’s somebody on that vessel and is there anybody on any of the surrounding vessels. Thankfully, Harbour Master Kevin Cortes was down there as well as he’s very in tune with who’s on what vessel and was able to fill us in on that.”
He said 10 members of the Ucluelet Volunteer Fire Brigade spent roughly three hours fighting the blaze, which was being pushed towards the dock by heavy winds.
“It was quite concerning as the vessel started to go under, what was left of the fuel released into the water and that caught fire, so the fuel was actually burning on top of the water,” he said. “It was very high winds as well, so it was actually blowing back towards the pier and did significant damage to the pier.”
Ucluelet’s fire crew had tackled a fishing vessel fire in Hitacu on Dec. 29 and saved that vessel from sinking, but Geddes explained they could not do the same with the fibreglass vessel on Thursday.
“It was a fibreglass hull vessel and it had already breached the upper part of the hull so there is, of course, environmental concerns as well as the actual fire damage,” he said. “The odds are that in any significant fire the fibreglass hull is going to melt through eventually, which this one did. We tried to minimize water that we put on, but this one was bound and determined to sink. It’s in the harbour on the ocean floor.”
No injuries were reported and no other vessels were damaged.
“Once again, my team did me extremely proud. They hung in there until the end. A lot of these members need to be at work this morning because it’s not an option for them to get out of it so they’re going to work on very little sleep,” Geddes said. “It’s just amazing the amount of time and effort that these members give back to the community and the skill level that they’re showing is just amazing. I’ve been in the fire business for over 20 years now and seen quite a few fires in that time; this department is as good as any I’ve seen and I’m very proud of that.”
Harbour Master Kevin Cortes commended the volunteer firefighters for how well they handled the situation.
“What they did was fantastic,” Cortes told the Westerly. “At times, the harbour was on fire and they were able to control it. I think they did a phenomenal job this morning.”
Cortes said the owner of the vessel had insurance and is expected to cover the costs of removing the vessel.
He added that the dock is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which will organize the necessary repairs after assessing the damage.