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York luxury boat blaze latest
THE shell of a devastated boat remains half submerged in the River Ouse today after a fierce blaze consumed the luxury yacht at its city centre mooring.
Nearby homes and restaurants had to be evacuated on Saturday night as thick black smoke covered much of the city centre and fire fighters spent a frantic 30 minutes searching the burning boat after initial reports suggested someone was on board.
Crowds of people gathered to watch as 35 firefighters tackled the flames as they engulfed the boat - a 47-foot private home called Silver C of York - which caught fire in the river near King’s Staith at around 7pm.
It is understood the owners lived on the boat, and could only stand by and watch in horror as their home was destroyed. They returned to the scene yesterday but were still too upset to talk about what had happened.
Environment Agency workers are now assessing how much damage may have been caused to the environment, and specialist fire investigation officers are working to establish the cause of the blaze.
North Yorkshire Fire Service’s Group Manager Graham Buckle said acrid black smoke, caused by the burning diesel and the fibreglass boat, forced the police to close Ouse Bridge and evacuate nearby properties.
“This was an unusual incident. We don't see many boat fires, but it was made easier for us by the boat being moored so we didn't have to ferry equipment into the middle of the river.”
He said he had not seen anything like it in his 27-year career.
"It was a spectacular fire. I've been to a couple of boat fires but nothing as large, or in the city centre with as much smoke and flames."
The firefighters' job was made easier by the proximity of the site to York's central fire station.
"It meant response times were just a couple of minutes and we could quickly send for additional resources."
Specialist fire investigators are now working to find out what caused the blaze but the boat's half submerged position will slow down their efforts, Mr Buckle said.
The fire service took “multiple” calls from members of the public who saw smoke billowing from the boat at around 7pm, the incident commander Lee Smith said.
Speaking as his crews fought to control the blaze on Saturday, Mr Smith said they had searched the boat for 30 frantic minutes before establishing no one was on board.
“We have established there’s no LPG on board, but the owner has told us he recently filled the boat up with 2000 gallons of diesel so we have been trying to contain that.”
EYEWITNESS Crowds gathered on either side of the river as the flames took hold of the boat, despite police warnings to stay away from the area.
Onlookers said they could smell smoke from as far away as Huntington.
Watching from across the river Chris Baiton and Samantha Morris said they smelt the smoke from their home in Toft Green, and headed down to the river.
“It looks like they are stuggling to put it out,” Chris said.
“We saw one fireman get on the boat and open a hatch. The flames jumped right out at him and his mates had to pull him off the boat.
“There was an explosion about 15 or 20 minutes ago as well. We moved behind the girder just to be safe,” he added.
Boat owner Mike Neal was on his barge Summat Special, moored behind the Silver C, when the fire took hold.
“It was worrying for us, but not as much as it was for the owners. They live on the boat, it’s their home,” he said.
He moved his vessel into the middle of the river to get out of the way of fuel spilt on the water, which could have ignited.
Nicky Drake who works at the Waterfront Restaurant on King’s Staith said diners had had to abandon their meals and drinks and leave the building.
“The fire took about two hours to put out. It was out eventually at about 9.30pm but there was black smoke billowing.
“The poor man [owner] was in the King’s Arms and someone went to get him. He ran on to the boat. It all started really slowly at first but then ignited. I have never seen anything like it. You could taste it in your mouth. When he came off his legs just buckled."
LUCK Environment Agency workers were called to the scene the morning after the fire, but said luck had saved the river from the worst of the damage.
Area base controller Peter Stevenson said even a small diesel spill would have been easy to spot, but his staff couldn’t see any fuel on the river.
"We are looking to see the impact the fire has had on the river, if any.
"There are two things that could cause concern: debris from the boat, primarily fuel, and the foam the fire service uses.
"It would appear the fuel has either burnt off, or is still contained in the boat. A small amount of diesel would be really visible, but we can't see anything on the river now.
"We could be talking about an element of luck here."
It is not known how long the boat will stay in its current position, but the Agency will be speaking to the boat's owners about how they remove the burnt out remains, Mr Stevenson added.
* Earlier this year, in June, a holiday cruiser used for pleasure trips on the River Ouse at Acaster Malbis marina, near York, was engulfed by fire and later sank, forcing a 40-year-old man and a young boy on board to jump into the water to escape.
Both the boat and jetty were destroyed by flames.