Vicious yacht fire in Weehawken

December 9, 2008 4:57:11 PM PST
A fire in a marina along the Hudson River sent boat owners scrambling for safety early Tuesday and spread a cloud of black smoke over traffic entering the Lincoln Tunnel during the morning commute. Two vessels were destroyed and a third was damaged at the Lincoln Harbor Marina, though Weehawken deputy police chief Jeffrey Fulcher said no boat owners were injured.

Authorities initially were worried about a New York City doctor who lives on one of the boats, but Fulcher said the doctor was at work when the fire started. His yacht, which other boat owners said was a 55-foot-long vessel worth at least $500,000, was destroyed.

Battalion Chief Charles Thomas of North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue said three firefighters suffered minor injuries. A fourth was injured later, as reporters watched, when a hose got loose on the dock and knocked him down. The firefighter was taken away on a stretcher.

The fire was brought under control after about 30 minutes, but the boats were still smoldering hours after the blaze began.

Rocco Brognano, owner of a boat docked at the marina, was on his vessel on an adjacent row when the fire began.

"I actually saw it on the news and I was in the boat," Brognano said. "I didn't waste any time getting out at that point."

He said black smoke filled the area as marina employees went from vessel to vessel trying to wake residents and get them out.

"It was fiberglass burning," Brognano said. "I jumped off the boat and there was all that black smoke."

Two fireboats and about 50 firefighters from the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue department fought the blaze from land and water. They were backed up by Jersey City firefighters and members of the U.S. Coast Guard.

The harbor master noticed the fire around 7:15 a.m. on one boat. It quickly spread to a second vessels.

The smoke was visible to people in offices along Manhattan's West Side. Rubbernecking motorists slowed traffic into the nearby Lincoln Tunnel.

Brandon Beach, 32, was awakened by the smoke as he slept on his vessel in the marina. He and several other boat owners suspect the fire could have been started by a portable space heater boat owners use in the winter to prevent pipes from freezing.

Beach also said one of the boats that caught on fire had been winterized on Monday by marina workers, who wrapped it in plastic shrink wrap and then used a torch to tighten the plastic around the vessel.

Despite the scare, Beach said he plans to sleep on his boat tonight.

"You can only worry so much and hope it doesn't happen to you," he said.

Boat owner John Petrocelli, 49, of Cliffside Park, said his vessel sits about 20 feet from the fire but was not damaged, though the wide plastic covering wrapped around it for the winter had been scorched brown in spots.

"I'm very lucky it's still floating," he said. "The wind was blowing the other way."

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