Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 8:48 PM on Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Blaze destroys 4 boats



Photo by Michael Armstrong

Firefighters wait for portable water tanks to fill last Friday at a fire at a boat shop at the Northern Enterprises Boat Yard on Kachemak Drive.

Firefighters from four departments last Friday kept a fire from spreading beyond a large boat shop at Northern Enterprises Boat Yard, but not before the fire destroyed three commercial fishing boats and substantially damaged a fourth.

In terms of monetary damage, it could be one of the largest structure fires since the Icicle Seafood building burned on the Homer Spit in 1998, according to Homer Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bob Painter.

Except for one firefighter with symptoms of smoke inhalation, no one was injured. Painter said the firefighter was treated and released at South Peninsula Hospital on Friday.

The fire started in a center bay of an eight-bay building on the northeast corner of the large industrial lot on Kachemak Drive near the intersection with East End Road. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, Painter said. With new boats under construction and others being repaired, the shop had lots of highly flammable materials.

"The fiberglass, the acetones, the resins contributed," Painter said. "The fire load was quite heavy in all the buildings."

A mainstay of the mariner industry, Northern Enterprises has a lift for moving boats in and out of the bay and outdoor and indoor work and storage space. Working and pleasure boats of all makes and vintage are stored there.

"Thank heaven there wasn't any breeze or anything," said Carol Grace, office manager for Northern Enterprises. "It could have been a lot worse."

Grace first noticed smoke coming from a bay when she came into work about 6 a.m. Painter said the page came at 6:09 a.m., with the first firefighters responding at 6:28 a.m. Twenty people from HVFD worked the fire, including emergency medical technicians and support crew. Kachemak Emergency Services crews and equipment provided mutual aid, and Anchor Point firefighters — and even one Ninilchik firefighter in the area — also assisted.

Firefighters were hampered by a lack of available water on the site. That stretch of Kachemak Drive does not have sewer and water service, although a project to bring water — and hydrants every 500 feet — is scheduled to start this summer. The nearest hydrants are at the corner of East End Road and Kachemak Drive and by Redden Marine. Crews had to shuttle water from hydrants to tankers and three 3,000-gallon portable tanks. Water trucks with slower valves also provided water. Northern Enterprises also had a water tanker on site. Painter said because of limited water firefighters couldn't use a large-pressure deck water gun to first attack the fire. Firefighters first had hoped to confine the fire to bay number 4, but lost the battle.

"After it spread we just tried to keep it from going further," Painter said.

Firefighters did keep the fire out of four bays and saved three boats. One boat, a bright yellow bow picker built by Freddy's Marine, was pulled out of the building. A stuck door had to be yanked down with a backhoe.

Freddy Martushev, the company owner who lives at the far end of East End Road, said he heard of the fire about 6:30 a.m.

"One of my shops are burning," Martushev said of the call that came in from a friend.

Martushev made it to his shop in time to save the boat, the Super B., fortunately on a trailer. Smoke smeared the fiberglass boat, but it was otherwise undamaged.

Some boats were almost ready to be pulled out of the shop and were on cribbing or trailers, Grace said.

Firefighters had to crimp lines on six 300-gallon fuel tanks near the boat shop, Painter said. None of those tanks had shut off valves as required by state fire code, he said.

By 9:30 a.m. firefighters had the blaze contained. Most crews left the scene by about 3 p.m., but firefighters had to return at 4 p.m. to mop up a rekindled fire.

Grace said Northern Enterprise owners Kenny and Snooks Moore were talking with insurance agents and did not yet have an estimate on the damages. This week they were focusing on getting power back to the building so boat owners could get access to the building and working with fishermen who lost boats. Fishermen lease bays from Northern Enterprise.

According to Kenai Peninsula Borough property tax assessments, the 5.77 acre lot the shop is on is assessed at $547,900, with the building assessed at $152,200.

Homer Public Works Director Carey Meyer said the heavy use of water by firefighters caused some cloudiness in nearby waterlines. Crews anticipated that and flushed out lines later that day after the firefighters left.

Meyer said bids for the east Kachemak Drive water-sewer line will go out in 30 days. A contractor had won the bid in an earlier solicitation, but had to withdraw after discovering an error.

Once bids come in and the Homer City Council approves, construction can start, probably this summer. The 8,000-foot water and sewer lines could be finished by summer 2012. Fire hydrants will go in every 500 feet, with three along the about 1,500-feet of frontage for Northern Enterprises.

The fire and response did not shut down East End Road or Kachemak Drive, although at times black smoke that reeked of fiberglass did drift over the area.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.