Boat Yard Fire Is Fort Lauderdale’s Toughest
Fireboat is effective as high winds make containment difficult
Fort Lauderdale News photo
Dillion aerial photo
High winds and long hose stretches added to the difficulties at a boat yard fire that gave Fort Lauderdale, Fla., firemen their toughest battle in the history of the city to prevent the blaze from spreading through the boatbuilding and repair yard area in the New River section.
The fire at Broward Marine, Inc., a boat yard and marina on the south bank of the New River’s South Fork, was discovered by a watchman, who phoned the fire department at 12:13 a.m. last November 18 to report the 83-foot yacht Venus afire at the east end of the dock area. The Broward yard, in the southwestern outskirts of Fort Lauderdale, is 1,000 feet square, covering 16 acres of land and 6 acres of water. Three covered work and storage sheds and open docks could handle more than 100 large yachts. Exposures included another boat yard with 50 sailboats across the narrow river and a floating-home factory and a boat basin with 300 yachts to the west.
The watchman’s call brought engines 1, 2 and 3, Ladder 1, Booster 1 (a 500-gpm pumper) and Assistant Chief William T. Flowers. Seeing the glow of a major fire in the sky when three blocks from his headquarters on the 3 1/2-mile run, Flowers requested Engines 4 and 9 and the city’s 28-foot, steel, 1500-gpm fireboat to respond, together with Chief W. T. Whidby and Deputy Chief D. C. Makemson.
First line protects exposure
Engine 2, the first due, laid in from a hydrant at Southwest 20th Street and 16th Avenue. As the loomup and heavy, drifting smoke made the initial size-up difficult, a hand line was first stretched to protect the manufacturing buildings south of the fire.
Engine 1 laid a double line to a deluge set at the west end of the fire area from a hydrant at 17th Avenue and Southwest 20th Street. Lack of sufficient hose left the deluge set about 150 feet short of its best operational position.
Engine 3 laid a line from Engine 1 to the center of the south side of the fire area and then laid a second line back to Engine 2. These lines protected the office and shop buildings and prevented further southerly spread of the fire.
By this time, the fire had spread from the Broward-built Venus, westward under the wood and galvanized roof of the open-sided, pole-type shed covering a dock area. Pushed by a 20 to 30-mph east wind, the radiant and convected heat soon involved the 102-foot Broward-built luxury yacht Heather IV, the largest wooden yacht built in the United States since World War II and the pride of the boat yard’s work force. Between the Venus at the east end and the Heather IV at the west end of the shed were 14 other boats which also became involved. They ranged in size from a 14-foot workboat to a 68-foot yacht.
The collapse of the shed roof and the operation of the deluge set by Engine 1 permitted access by Engine 4 to the west side of the 55-foot wide marine railway slip to draft. As soon as water was available from Engine 4, the deluge set was advanced another 150 feet to the edge of the slip, and several additional hand lines were stretched to the docks and roof of the west workshed, which housed 23 large yachts. A concerted successful effort was made to stop the fire at this point. Booster 1 extinguished several spot fires on the roof of the west shed. Upon the arrival of the fireboat, the operation progressed from containment to extinguishment. As three sides (and the “floor”) of the east shed were water, the principal effective streams were from the two monitors of the fireboat.
During the extinguishment of the fire, the mooring lines of the Heather IV burned through and she began to drift across the 150-foot wide river toward the Summerfield Boat Works. The fireboat, under the protection of the bow monitor, nudged the burning vessel back to her slip and pumped until the Heather IV grounded.
Also involved in the fire area were the battery, engine overhaul and varnish shops, a crawler-mounted crane, and an auto. Radiant heat ignited the 36-foot yawl Flicka, which was severely damaged on the transfer tracks between the railway and the lift. Several spot fires aboard the 70-foot Desiree on the marine railway were extinguished by firemen. Paint was badly blistered by radiant heat on two yachts in the west shed and on the Sharelle, a large motor-sail yacht lying to the east of the lift. Major damage to the upper parts of the Sharelle was prevented by canvas tarpaulins that had been placed tent-like over the woodwork during deck refinishing.
Radiant heat was intense enough to damage seven yachts at the Summerfield Boat Works, 150 feet across the river. Additional losses were to batteries, masts, and tenders stored in the shops for maintenance, repair, and refinishing.
As the fire intensity decreased, Engine 9 was sent to the Lauderdale Yacht Basin, a half mile west, where many small spot fires in grass and palm trees were extinguished. As soon as radiant heat conditions permitted. Engine 3 commenced drafting at the lift platform slip. Ladder 1 was not brought inside the boatyard, as there was insufficient space to maneuver the aerial between buildings and boats.
During the fire, Engines 5 and 7 were relocated to Fire Headquarters to balance the remaining protective forces of the city. No Fort Lauderdale fire units were dispatched across the river to the Summerfield Boat NVorks, but yard employees, aided by police who blockaded the area to sightseers, were available for fire fighting.
Return to service
Second-call companies were released shortly after 3:00 a.m., as soon as tire major part of the fire was darkened down. Aided by an early arriving relief shift, all companies except for the booster and the fireboat, were back in service by 7:30 a.m., when yard employees took over the task of overhauling. The fireboat remained until all visible sources of fire were extinguished. During salvage and overhaul operations, Engine 2 was recalled to extinguish a flare-up within the hull of the sunken Heather IV that was beyond the reach of yard hydrant streams. Both the fireboat and Engine 2 were summoned again shortly after dark when fire was observed at the tops of the still-standing wood-pile columns of the shed.
It is believed by all concerned, that, without the fireboat, control of this fire to the building of origin would have been difficult, if not impossible.
The origin of the fire has not been determined. Loss estimates were reported to the writer as being in the area of $2.5 million.
Timothy G. Stillman is deputy fire coordinator of Orange County, N. Y., and a contributor to Fire Engineering for many years. He now winters in Fort Lauderdale.