LAKE POWELL, Utah (ABC4) — Massive flames heated up a community of houseboats on Lake Powell in southern Utah late Thursday night, Oct. 27.
Rochelle Robinson, a resident from Park City who was staying on a houseboat at the Bullfrog Marina of Lake Powell, told ABC4 it was a surreal moment.
“The heat was just so intense,” said Robinson. “It was hard just to stand here.”
Robinson said she was finishing dinner when she started smelling what she described as barbeque. As the smell got worse and took more of an oily smell, she decided to go investigate. What she saw was the boat just opposite of hers had a lot of black smoke coming out of the top of it.
Jenny-Lynn Meek, who was also staying on a houseboat at the marina, was one of the few who immediately sprang into action.
“We went running over. We grabbed fire extinguishers and hoses and it looked like we had it out,” explained Meek. “It looked like it was completely out, we had been working on it for about 10 minutes, we called 911 and all of a sudden the whole cabin turned red and it just engulfed.”
At that point, those fighting the fire knew it was out of their control. In order to protect the other boats in the dock, they cut the boat loose and set it adrift.
“That was the scariest part, I think,” said Robinson. “There is this burning drifting — like a ghost boat going out to sea.”
Emergency crews were still a ways away from arriving on the scene. Robinson explained that the marina is in a remote area. Hanksville, the closest city, is an hour away, meaning it would be a while before crews would make it. She said Captain Titus Crawford with Lake Powell Executive Services was the only one on duty at the lake at the time and did his best to mitigate the danger.
Crawford used his boat to ram the “ghost boat” away from other docks in the marina. When the flames and heat got to be too much, both Meek and Robinson said he started doing donuts in the water, creating waves to push the flaming boat away. But, that’s when it took a turn for the worse.
Robinson said the winds changed and the flaming boat went adrift in a different direction.
“It went sideways into the boats on ‘A’ Dock,” said Robinson. “We went over there and counted and there were seven boats that burned, plus the first boast so that’s eight. There is an all-metal tug boat that didn’t burn. It’s just sitting there amid all the rubble.”
“He was able to get it all the way – almost – out of the slip,” Meek said. “I followed the boat so I watched the journey from it leaving the dock all the way to where it collided with the other boats.”
Shortly after the boat crashed into the ‘A’ Dock, a bigger boat with a water canon arrived to fight the fire, and the marina was evacuated of visitors. Robinson said it was three hours of intense firefighting to put the flames out.
Robinson told ABC4 Captain Titus Crawford with Lake Powell Executive Services was the only one on duty at the time and arrived to mitigate the danger.
“I was really impressed with their organization and stuff. I used to be on Search and Rescue and I know how things operate,” said Robinson. “They’re fast but they’re not fast. You may wonder why they are doing it that way but they have a protocol to follow.”
The original boat that caught fire was empty when the flames engulfed its cabin. The National Park Service told ABC4 it was investigating the fire, but was not able to comment further.
Miraculously, there have been no reported deaths as a result of the massive flames but Robinson said one person was airlifted to a hospital for treatment. Those staying at the Bullfrog Marina were given lodging for the night but were allowed to return to their boats on Friday morning.
While the damage was limited only to empty boats in the marina, Meek had some concerns about the response to the fire, saying she felt there were a lot of errors in what happened.
“I feel like they were not properly trained or adequately staffed with the right equipment,” Meek explained. Robinson had a different take.
“I really do think their efforts saved the whole marina from not going up into flames. It could have been worse because once one catches on fire, it just goes down the line,” said Robinson.