Seattle Times Story about 2002 Fire

Inferno on Lake Union: Dozens of boats lost in blaze; some owners left homeless; no injuries reported

By Seattle Times staff

Dozens of boats, including live-aboard crafts, caught fire last night at a marina on the north shore of Lake Union.

No serious injuries were reported, though one firefighter was sent to the hospital suffering from dehydration. The fire was under control shortly after 11 p.m., said Helen Fitzpatrick, Seattle Fire Department spokeswoman.

The spectacular blaze, which was first reported at 9:43 p.m., drew hundreds of onlookers and destroyed much of the Seattle Marina, 2401 N. Northlake Way.

In all, 37 boats burned, Fitzpatrick said. About 120 boats are docked at the marina.

Some 100 emergency personnel, including 50 firefighters, were dispatched.

Fitzpatrick said the fire appeared to have started on a boat on the east pier of the marina, then spread to the west pier. No cause had been determined early this morning.

Witnesses said they initially thought the wind would blow the burning boat out toward the lake, but it drifted near the shore and continued to burn. The fire then jumped from boat to boat.

Nick LeClercq, who has owned the marina for 10 years, said 10 of the boats that burned were live-aboards.

"This is a little neighborhood that just burned up," he said. "If somebody was hurt I'd be more upset. This is OK."

The American Red Cross was headed to the scene to help find housing for displaced residents.

"There were some spectacular explosions. They went off like blowtorches," said witness Steve Burkholder. "They (firefighters) didn't want to get too close to that."

An unknown amount of fuel spilled into the lake, but the spill was limited because no boats had sunk to the bottom of the lake by midnight, officials said. Foss Maritime and the U.S. Coast Guard had put up containment booms around the spill.

Jolene Williams-Hunt, 44, lived at the marina on a 53-foot boat with her husband, Stewart Williams-Hunt, 49, for two years.

"I heard a boom, and I saw too much light. I came out, and the neighbors were saying, 'Get off, get off, get off!' " she said as she stood on the shore, wearing a robe.

When she got to the shore, she realized her keys, along with everything else she owned, were still inside the boat.

Another woman who lived at the marina, Teri Reed, lost her 42-foot boat, though it was insured. She had heard the boom and had run to shore with other boat owners.

"It's really great we're all safe," Reed, 44, said as she watched her $100,000 boat burn and partly sink. "I lost everything I owned, and I'm still grateful."

She said 20 to 25 people live in the moorage, most on the west pier.

The fire occurred nearly a year after another blaze on Lake Union destroyed a dozen boats at the Cadranell Yacht Landing Marina, at 2525 Fairview Ave. E. Investigators determined an electrical problem started that fire, which caused $1 million damage and brought attention to the fact that no large firefighting ship is stationed in Lake Union.

Last night, the Seattle Police Department's Harbor Patrol boat, which is stationed in the lake, arrived at the scene soon after the fire started. The larger Chief Seattle, operated by the Seattle Fire Department, arrived much later, after traveling from Elliott Bay through the Ballard Locks.

But Fitzpatrick said the departments had been cross-training since a January fire destroyed 15 boats at Seattle Yacht Club on Portage Bay and renewed the controversy over the fireboats' locations.

Seattle Times staff reporters Paysha Stockton, Sara Jean Green, Bobbi Nodell and Michael Ko contributed to this report.