SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - An early morning boat fire left one person dead in Barrio Logan, according to San Diego Fire Rescue Department officials.
The tugboat "Chief" was docked at Pacific Tugboat Service in the 1400 block of Cesar E. Chavez Parkway at 1:15 a.m. when the fire broke out, SDFRD Spokesman Lee Swanson said. Fire crews said it took about 35 minutes to put out the flames, and afterward they found the body of an off-duty employee who was staying on the boat. The body was reportedly located on the top deck.
Southern California Inlandboatmen's Union identified the man as Henry Whimbley, a yard mechanic. He was not a member of the Union, but was trying to become one.
“It took us probably about a good 30-40 minutes to knock this one down,” said Battalion Chief Steve Salaz with San Diego Fire-Rescue. “These fires hold a lot of heat and just to get in there takes a lot of tooling so our crews can get in there and get the fire knocked down and then conduct a search.”
Pacific Tugboat Service said the fire started due to an unattended lit cigarette in the galley and spread quickly, becoming a two-alarm fire.
“It was a second alarm fire just because of the involvement and the heat. Being a hot night like tonight crews take a beating when it comes to a boat fire,” continued Salaz.
Harbor police divers waited nearby until the fire was out because of the dangerous conditions.
“Being on a boat with no railings and our crews having to go up and down the deck with steep ladders, the chances of someone falling into the water is pretty great and with our gear we're not going to last too long,” Salaz explained.
Firefighters also used a variety of techniques to get the fire under control, cautiously avoiding excess weight.
“When we're putting water inside a boat, we have to make sure the water is leaving the boat or we can have the boat capsize on us or the weight becomes an issue,” Salaz said.
Pacific Tugboat Service said its employee died from smoke inhalation, although the medical examiner is still reviewing the cause of death.
Pacific Tugboat Service issued the following statement Sunday:
There was an incident that occurred early Sunday morning wherein a fire broke out in the galley of a tugboat that was out of service. We believe, as does the San Diego Fire Department, that the fire originated from a lit cigarette that had been placed on the galley table. The fire spread quickly from the galley, and an off-duty employee found aboard was apparently overcome by smoke inhalation. Pacific Tugboat Service and the San Diego Fire Department continue to investigate the incident. Additional information will be provided as the investigation progresses. All of us in the Pacific Tugboat Service family are grieving this tragic loss.
Inlandboatmen's Union released the following statement Sunday:
We consider him family because of the close working relationship the members had with him. Our are deepest sympathy's to the PTS family and to Henry's family.
Firefighters estimate the damage at $300,000.