The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Explosion on boat injures family Monday

Vessel and fuel dock extensively damaged by resulting fire at the harbor


Photo courtesy Mustafa Kaymak

“The Falcon” a 28 foot Bayliner exploded at the fuel station at the Valdez small boat harbor Monday, injuring its five occupants.

Two people were medivaced to the Harborview Burn Center in Seattle Monday after a pleasure craft caught fire at the Crowley fuel dock at the small boat harbor. Three other occupants of the privately owned pleasure craft were hospitalized according to officials.

The saga began at approximately 11:30 a.m. when eyewitnesses say the “Falcon,” a 28 foot privately owned Bayliner, exploded upon ignition after fueling with gasoline at the dock.

“When the boat exploded, on board, were the husband and wife and three of the girls,”

said Sheri Pierce, public information officer for the City of Valdez.

The explosion and resulting fire hurled the woman and two teenage girls onto dock.

“They received cuts and abrasions,” Pierce said.

The boat’s owner, Owen Guthrie of Fairbanks, was severely injured when pulling the third teenage girl who had reportedly fell or was hurled into or near the burning engine compartment.

“Her father went in after her to get her out of the flames,” Pierce said. “He and this girl received serious burns.”

Crowley employee Gretchen Kuchen, who was on duty at the time of the incident, acted decisively according to Pierce.

“She went up and turned off the fuel supply to the dock,” Pierce said. “So she acted very quickly to secure the dock area.”

Personnel from Silver Bay Seafoods came to the immediate aid of the injured boaters before emergency medical technicians from the Valdez Fire Dept. arrived on the scene.

“All five persons aboard were transferred to shore and Crowley dock employees quickly secured fuel to the pier’s pumps,” US Coast Guard spokeswoman Lt. Allie Ferko said in a press release issued in the hours after the incident.

The resulting fire from the initial explosion ate through the boats tether, causing the burning vessel to drift in the harbor, which was populated with fisherman, tourists and other people typically found in the area on a summer day in Valdez.

Firefighters and Coast Guard personnel arrived on the scene within minutes to fight the fire and close the harbor to boat traffic during the emergency.

“The fire burned the tether away,” Pierce said. The fire from the drifting boat caused pilings near Silver Bay to catch fire, as well as small fire on the fuel dock itself. “They did have a fire on the fuel dock.”

Onlookers from as far away as Kobuk St. reported feeling and as well as hearing the initial explosion.

Valdez man Mustafa Kaymak was near the scene at the time of the explosion and the resulting mass of fire seen floating around the harbor.

“The boat was already covered in fire as the firefighters arrived,” Kaymak said in an email to the Valdez Star. “After the boat was unleashed from the harbor, it went toward the other boats and for few minutes, it stayed in between them, but people around was trying to extinguish it. However I was afraid the other boats would catch fire and somebody would get hurt.”

Fortunately, harbor personnel in a skiff were able to use long hooks to somewhat contain the boat as firefighters doused the flames from the spit.

“The Coast Guard Captain of the Port immediately closed the Small Boat Harbor to all traffic, a Coast Guard Station Valdez small boat launched to assist with traffic management and scene safety,” Ferko’s press release said. “Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit personnel deployed to the scene to investigate the cause. The Valdez Fire Department has jurisdiction for marine firefighting within the small boat harbor and successfully extinguished the vessel fire within 45 minutes.”

The Valdez Fire Department has jurisdiction over firefighting operations in the small boat harbor, according to Ferko, who said the Coast Guard’s role in this incident was limited to investigating the cause of the fire and securing the harbor during its closure.

The Coast Guard reports that at approximately 1:05 p.m., the Valdez Fire Department deemed the area safe and the Coast Guard Captain of the Port reopened the harbor to boat traffic.

Steve Revis photo

Firefighters begin retrieval efforts after successfully dousing the fire near the fish processing dock.

“The Valdez Harbormaster’s Office, Valdez Fire Department, and Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Valdez will continue to work together to determine the safest course of action for removing the Falcon from the harbor,” the press release said. “Boom is in place around the vessel as a precaution and no sheen has been reported in the water. The cause of the incident remains under investigation.”

John Engles, who investigates pollutants for the Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation said there was little water pollution from the fire.

“It’s not too bad,” Engles said during the incident, “just a couple puddles of gasoline.”

While the loved ones of the injured boaters grapple with the aftermath of the incident, it was happily reported that the family’s dog, Sweetie, survived the incident, apparently without injury.


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