A fire that sent a massive plume of thick, black smoke into the air above a Charleston marina on the Ashley River sank one boat and damaged another Monday morning.
Two or three people were on a 32-foot recreational boat when it caught fire in the water near the fuel docks at the Harborage at Ashley Marina, Charleston interim Fire Chief John Tippett said.
“They’re kind of in shock, but they’re not injured,” he said of the occupants, who escaped before the boat sank.
The front of an adjacent 50-foot boat and a portion of the dock were also damaged in the fire. Tippett said the second boat is salvageable. No one was on that vessel at the time.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Elizabeth Plasters was in the cabin of her boat tied up one dock over when she heard what sounded like metal clanking. She first thought one boat had struck another boat. Then she saw smoke and flames in the fuel tank of the 32-foot boat.
“It was just a little bit, but then within two minutes the whole thing just started. We were just sitting there all crunched up going, ‘Oh no! No!’ And the whole thing started going, and then it burned the lines and started floating,” Plasters said. “I’ve never seen one go down quite like that.”
The boat was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived within five minutes of receiving the 911 call at 9:55 a.m.
A plume of smoke extended over the James Island Connector. Firefighters had the blaze under control within about 10 minutes.
The U.S. Coast Guard responded and assisted with putting containment devices in the water for fuel leaks.
“We’re putting booms out in conjunction with the Coast Guard and have contacted a private contractor to assist also,” Tippett said.
By the early afternoon, families gathered at the marina and waited for the docks to reopen. Richard and Jan Massey stood with a 12-pack of Diet Coke and flowers, which they planned to share with friends while working on projects on their boat.
The couple saw smoke while driving in from West Ashley on U.S. Highway 17. Fire trucks and emergency vehicles lined a portion of Lockwood Drive near the marina.
“We just saw the smoke billowing up. There was a lot of black smoke and flames," Richard Massey said. "Pretty intense heat."