LA CONNER, Skagit County — Sitting down to read before dinner, Pat McGarry never imagined what his night would entail.
When his wife knocked on the window from outside, pointing across the bay to the marina up in flames, it took only moments for McGarry to realize his boat — Footprints in the Sand — was in danger.
“We had just finally gotten everything the way we wanted it — the new window blinds, the lighting,” he said about the 48-foot Navigator he and his wife have owned for seven years. “I just left the marina an hour before.”
Footprints in the Sand was one of seven boats destroyed Friday by a fire at Shelter Bay Marina near La Conner. Six of those boats sank, including the McGarrys’.
At least five more boats have mild to severe fire damage, said Kevin Noyes, deputy fire marshal for Skagit County.
According to officials, the fire started about 4 p.m. Friday on one boat at the residential marina and quickly spread to adjacent boats and the dock.
Firefighters from multiple agencies responded, including the Swinomish Reservation, Skagit County, La Conner and the U.S. Coast Guard. They were able to contain the damage to the J dock, which houses the largest boats in the 325-slip marina in the private, gated community of Shelter Bay on the Swinomish Channel.
The seven totaled boats are worth an estimated $1 million, Noyes said.
With the smell of diesel strong in the air, dive teams and salvage crews worked all day Saturday to clean up the oil slick and raise the sunken boats.
Laura Hayes, the Department of Ecology on-scene coordinator, said as much as 2,400 gallons of oil and fuel had leaked into the harbor, with even more sitting on board the sunken vessels.
“The longer the boats sit under water, the bigger the chance of them leaking fuel,” said Officer John Riddle of the Swinomish Police Department. “Which is why we are all working quickly.”
Anacortes-based Culbertson Marine lifted the first boats out of the water at 1 p.m. Saturday with help from Northwest Diving and Marine Services.
The company will work through the weekend raising the remaining vessels and will take them by barge to Anacortes, where they will be inspected for insurance claims and to try to determine the fire’s cause, said Sgt. George Smith of the Swinomish police.
The Swinomish Police Department and Skagit County Fire Department will investigate the cause of the fire.
Because the oil slick was contained quickly, the chances of environmental damage are reduced, Hayes said.
Still, Ecology officials will be keeping an eye out for injured wildlife.
McGarry called his boat a “second home,” full of memories, photos and sailing trophies he won years ago. “I guess that is why we call boats ‘her,’ ” he said. “Because they have a way of getting in your heart.”
Even though McGarry could not get to Footprints in the Sand fast enough to save her, he and other residents were able to move other boats away from the flames as firefighters fought to contain the fire.
After a phone call from McGarry Friday night, Greg Croskrey decided to drive to the marina Saturday and check on his boat.
Driving almost 350 miles from Spokane, he and his family got to the marina Saturday afternoon, but they were not allowed down on the dock for safety reasons.
Teena Maria, their 52-foot Bayliner 4788, was moored at the J dock, but was moved before it caught fire.
From the shore, Croskrey could see the back windows were melted, but he said as long as the inside doesn’t have smoke damage, he’ll be happy.
“We can fix the exterior, but if the inside smells like smoke — burned fiberglass smoke — that is a terrible problem,” he said.
“We bought the boat in 2001 … it is the boat my two daughters grew up on, so this is very emotional.”
Coral Garnick: 206-464-2422 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @coralgarnick