Spark ignites gas vapors, 2 boats destroyed

10 people rescued, 4 more boats damaged at dock in Fairfield

Sunday, June 29, 6:45 p.m.: An electrical spark ignited gasoline vapors, causing a fire the damaged six boats at the South Benson Marina Sunday, June 29.

Flames erupted when an extension cord on the boat was plugged in, according to the Fairfield Fire Department.

An acrid odor smoke hung over the area shortly after the fire. People carrying coolers and fishing equipment walked past fire engines to boats as the overhaul and investigation continued around 1:30 p.m.

Asst. Fire Chief Scott Bisson said a 911 call around 12:30 p.m. reported the fire, and was followed by more 911 calls reporting more boats catching fire and the blaze “spreading rather rapidly.”

Smoke was visible from Jennings Road, Bisson said on the dock Sunday. Photos posted on social media by the Fairfield Fire Department shows cloud of thick, black smoke towering over the marina and Jennings Beach, visible from the Long Island Sound.

Three engines, a ladder and the assistant chef were initially dispatched. Fairfield’s police and fire marine units were joined by marine units from the Bridgeport police and fire departments.

The first engine found two boats at G Dock fully involved, with boats on either side of the burning boats exposed.

Hand lines were stretched down the dock. Bisson said the fire was quickly knocked down, and extinguished in 20 to 30 minutes.

Firefighters were told upon arrival that one man was working on a boat and jumped into the water to escape the flames. Firefighters checked the individual for injuries and he refused medical care on scene, stating that he only had minor cuts. Another civilian on the dock at the time of the fire saw the man jump into the water and assisted with rescuing him from the water, according to a release from the Fairfield Fire Department.

Initial fire crews worked to limit spread of the fire to the two involved boats and also cooled the adjacent exposed vessels to prevent further damage. Additional personnel responded to the scene to search for any injured boaters, establish a water supply, and to protect the public from electrical and flammable hazards related to the burned boats.

In addition to two boats showing heavy damage to the sterns, the stand where boats can be plugged in and from which water is drawn to hose down craft melted in the fire, compromising the electrical system.

Bisson also said that the foam inside the float that supports the dock melted, allowing water into the device. While the dock is unsteady, Bisson said the structural damage to the dock is not significant.

A group of 10 to 20 people was trapped on the end of the dock, unable to reach land due to the fire. Bisson said firefighters in gear worked past the flames and protected those trapped, while police and fire boats stood by in case an evacuation was needed. Once the fire was extinguished and the dock was found to be sound enough for them to use, the people were escorted to land by firefighters.

After investigation by the Fire Marshal, the Fairfield Fire Department announced that two boats were destroyed, two suffered moderate to severe damage and two had minor damage. The aluminum dock floatation, water and electrical systems were also damaged by the fire. Electrical power was shut down to the entire G dock until repairs can made.

The estimated value of the two boats destroyed exceeds $40,000, while the extent of damage to the exposed vessels has not been determined, according to the Department.

Boats at the docks are close together.

“We’ve been very fortunate in Fairfield to not have many boat fires in the marina,” Bisson said. “This is a vulnerable area due to the proximity of the boats and the values of the boats.”

Bridgeport Fire and Police boats also assisted Fairfield with controlling marina traffic. The Bridgeport Fire Department covered stations in Fairfield, as all on-duty Fairfield firefighters were sent to the marina.

The U.S. Coast Guard was notified of the incident but did not respond. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and ENCON Police also responded to the scene to assist with handling any potential fuel spill issues, but fire personnel were able to control the release from the damaged vessels.

Fairfield Police assisted with crowd control and scene safety.

Boaters were not allowed onto the dock until all hazards could be eliminated and the burned boats, which were filled with flammable gas and were leaking, could be removed to safety. The Harbor Manager and Fairfield Police and Fire boats supervised the movement of the vessels to the boat ramp so they could be safely removed from the marina and eliminate any further environmental release.

Sunday, June 29, 2:39 p.m.: No one was injured, but people became trapped on a dock during a fire that destroyed two boats at the South Benson Marina Sunday, June 29.

Asst. Fire Chief Scott Bisson said a 911 call around 12:30 p.m. reported the fire, and was followed by more 911 calls reporting more boats catching fire and the blaze “spreading rather rapidly.”

Smoke was visible from Jennings Road, Bisson said on the dock Sunday.

Three engines, a ladder and the assistant chef were initially dispatched. Fairfield’s police and fire marine units were joined by marine units from the Bridgeport police and fire departments.

The first engine found two boats at G Dock fully involved, with boats on either side of the burning boats exposed.

Hand lines were stretched down the dock. Bisson said the fire was quickly knocked down, and extinguished in 20 to 30 minutes.

Two boats were destroyed, two suffered significant damage and one suffered minor damage, Bisson said.

About 10 people were trapped on the end of the dock as the fire spread between them and land, Bisson said.

In addition to two boats showing heavy damage to the sterns, the stand where boats can be plugged in and from which water is drawn to hose down craft melted in the fire, compromising the electrical system.

Bisson also said that the foam inside the float that supports the dock melted, allowing water into the device. While the dock is unsteady, Bisson said the structural damage to the dock is not significant.

Sunday, June 29, 1:07 p.m.: Multiple boats are on fire at the South Benson Marina, according to a Facebook post from the Fairfield Firefighters Union at 1 p.m. Sunday.

More details will be posted as they become available.

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