Crews work to clear charred boats from La Conner marina

Crews work to clear charred boats from La Conner marina »Play Video
A crane begins to pull the first boat from the water, Feb. 22. 2014.
LA CONNER, Wash. (AP) - Crews are working to clear damaged boats and contain fuel leaks after a fast-moving fire destroyed at least seven boats and damaged others Friday at a marina near this northwest Washington community.

Six of the seven boats sank after the flames raced through and the seventh was severely burned, Skagit County Fire District 13 Chief Roy Horn told the Skagit Valley Herald. The initial damage estimate was $1 million.

No one was injured in the blaze at the Shelter Bay Marina, which serves a planned, private community located on the Swinomish Channel just across from the town of La Conner.

Shelter Bay Community manager David Franklin said the fire was controlled by early evening. He estimated that another eight boats were damaged and called the boats involved "a number of really nice pleasure craft."

Saturday, divers combed through carnage, and insurance agents filtered in.

Pat McGarry told the newspaper he lost a 50-foot yacht valued at $300,000. He said the 28-slip dock hit hardest by the fire held the largest berths in the marina.

Multiple fire departments responded, pouring water on the flames from land and sea. The Anacortes Fire Department sent its fireboat.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

By Friday night, crews from the Coast Guard and the state Ecology Department had arrived. Crews deployed booms to try to contain any fuel spills.

''There's oil in the water and that's an environmental concern for us," said Laura Hayes, Ecology spill coordinator. "As far as human health and safety, we're monitoring the oil and the air quality."

But state Department of Ecology officials say it appears most of the leak had been contained by Saturday.

Meanwhile, fire investigators say they're focusing on the first three boats that sank to find the cause -- and they can't dispose of any debris until the investigation is complete.

"Right now, everything that's floating and at the bottom is evidence," Hayes said.

'It spread very, very quickly'

Franklin said he called 911 after a resident called the Shelter Bay office to report the fire late Friday afternoon. He reached the marina to find one boat "pretty well engulfed" in flames.

"Some residents were trying to put it out but considering the materials involved it spread very, very quickly," he told The Associated Press, noting the nature of modern boat manufacturing involves lots of fiberglass and wood interiors.

He described Shelter Bay as a community as "where people come to retire and enjoy the (nearby) San Juan Islands." The boats and marina are "an integral part of the community. Boating is a way of life for some folks."

No one was living aboard any of the boats that burned, Franklin said.

Most boat owners "live in the community and have their boats right down the street," he said.

McGarry, who lives on the waterfront across the bay from the marina, said when he first heard of the blaze he tried to drive down to rescue his boat, but the way was blocked.

He returned home and, with neighbor Robert Hays and another community member, set out in a 10-foot dinghy to help rescue boats.

The trio untied and towed four large yachts to safety with a tiny 15-horsepower engine, the newspaper reported.

"Your boat becomes part of your family. Watching it die like that is tough," McGarry said. "You shouldn't care about an inanimate thing like that, but you do."

The deputy fire marshal says it could be midweek before they get any answers to the cause of the fire -- if they ever do. Salvage operations are expected to continue for several days.