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MARATHON (CBSMiami) – A massive fire at a Marathon marina destroyed three lobster boats and a nearby home.
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office credits Deputy Seth Hopp who was driving southbound near 15th Street at 2:35 a.m. When he saw billowing black smoke that was moving from the Vaca Key Marina and called the fire into Sheriff’s dispatchers and pulled in to the parking lot to investigate.
The Sheriff’s Office says Hopp heard an explosion and began running toward the fire to make sure that no one was in the area. He reportedly heard more explosions which he said sounded like they might have been propane tanks.
Deputies Matthew Cory, Daniel Hill and Ian Douthirt started evacuating residences in the areas South and West of the fire.
Sheriff Rick Ramsay said, “We all – deputies and firefighters – worked extremely hard to keep this fire from spreading further and to keep anyone from being injured. The teamwork shown on the scene was impressive and I commend everyone for their hard work and dedication to the job of keeping the community safe.”
Two CBS4 viewers used their cell phone to capture and show CBS4 the flames at the marina.
One of those viewers, Bob Williams, told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench, “When I woke up across the street I heard what sounded like propane explosions from tanks. Then I heard a sequential series of explosions from the tanks and saw the boats below the water line. It was like a bad dream. It was making a lot of noise. It makes you appreciate safety standards when it comes to hazardous materials.”
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office posted on Twitter that the large fire at the marina, at Mile Marker 47.5, had been burning since 2:30 a.m. The marina is located between Porky’s Restaurant and the Seven Mile Grill on the bayside, just before the north end of the Seven Mile Bridge.
Marathon Fire Chief John Jackson said, “Monroe County Fire responded and joined Marathon Fire in mutual aid.” He said firefighters worked together to contain the blaze and the winds helped push it towards the water – away from US- 1.”
Jackson said no one was injured.
When firefighters arrived, they found that the flames had spread to a nearby house on an acre-sized lot filled with wooden lobster traps.
The woman who lived in the home was safely evacuated, according to Marathon Fire Rescue Chief John Johnson.
Three crews from Marathon and three crews from Monroe County Fire Rescue worked together to put out the fire as sheriff’s deputies moved several boats to keep them away from the flames. US-1 was closed to traffic.
The fire was contained at about 5:30 a.m.
In addition to the boats and the house, six propane-powered forklifts, several trap shacks, tools and about 20,000 Carlos Seafood Company lobster traps were also destroyed.
With the 37 to 47-foot lobster boats valued at an estimated $150,000 to $300,000 and lobster traps valued at $35 to $40 each, the total damage likely will be more than $1 million.
“The traps were stacked 18 to 20 feet high,” Monroe County Fire Rescue Deputy Fire Marshal Craig Marston said. “The [commercial] lobster fishermen were getting them ready to put in the water the first of August for the new season.”
“The fire started with a boat and then it crossed to another boat and then another boat and then all the traps,” said Ednan Prieto who lost about 2,000 traps. “This was bad, really bad. It was like World War III. It was really bad. Up to 20,000 traps total are gone. It’s 26 years in business and a bunch of it can be gone in 2 to 3 hours. Thank God we did not lose the boat.”
The cause of the fire is under investigation. In addition to the Marathon Fire Marshal, the State Fire Marshal and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are investigating due to the high monetary value of the loss.