A fire destroyed a sailboat, part of a dock, and some equipment owned by the Jakolof Bay Oyster Company last night. There have been no reported injuries.
The fire started Sunday evening in Little Jakolof Bay, about 7 miles southwest of Homer on the south side of Kachemak Bay.
Johann Willrich was out on a porch at about 10 pm in Little Tutka, a neighboring bay. He says he saw black smoke that looked larger than a garbage fire, so he and other residents hopped in their boat to find out what was going on.
“I had the handheld VHF and someone was reporting that there was a boat that was on fire and the dock itself was on fire as well…Drove over toward Little Jakolof Bay and as soon as we turned the corner, we saw that the boat was fully engulfed and we got there just in time to see the mast fall over,” says Willrich.
Residents of the remote south bay often are the first responders to incidents, as it can take quite a while for fire departments or other official responders to travel from the larger Seldovia, or from Homer.
The dock and boat are property of the Jakolof Bay Oyster Company. Its owners declined to be interviewed but confirmed the losses.
Willrich says they tried to reach the boat that was on fire, but it was hard because of the farming operation.
“So there were oyster nets strung out all along the dock, a couple hundred yards in either direction. So it was very hard to even approach this burning boat,” says Willrich.
They were able to cut loose some equipment and another boat and tow them out of danger.
Bryan Barratt is the chief of the Seldovia Volunteer Fire Department. They responded just after 10 pm and tried to salvage as much as they could.
“Myself and one other city firefighter was able to get onto the dock and cut loose a raft with their processing equipment and their oyster-picking skiff and get those away from the fire. One of those rafts was on fire and we put that out and pulled it off to the side,” says Chief Barratt.
Barratt confirms there was significant damage to the dock and several floats, the boat sank, and quite a bit of equipment that was stored on the dock was also destroyed.
“I don’t think we’ll ever know definitively the cause but the fire originated in a shed that had a running generator in it that was on one of the floats that was across the dock from the sailboat. The fire originated in that building, burned that building, burned the adjacent floats, swept across the floats and caught the rigging and the sails on the sailboat on fire and then burned the boat,” says Barratt.
Steven Russell is the interagency coordinator for the Department of Environmental Conservation. They responded early Monday morning. He says there was no sheening on the water in the area and no known petroleum product spillage.
“Jakolof Bay area is a very sensitive area, not only environmentally speaking but commercially speaking to the extent of mariculture operations that are going on in that area. Certainly DEC will do anything we can to assist the responsible party and the Coast Guard in mitigating any environmental threat,” says Russell.
The full cost of the losses to their oyster operations are not known at this time.