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Marina set afire; 1,600 gallons of fuel spill

Police confiscate videotape from surveillance cameras at Auke Bay harbormaster's office

Posted: Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Flames shot 60 feet into the air and damaged a marina ramp after an arsonist set a fire early Tuesday at Auke Bay, and more than 1,600 gallons of diesel and gasoline spilled into the harbor from ruptured fuel lines, officials said.

Juneau Fire Chief Eric Mohrmann would not say how the fuel lines ruptured. The incident, which briefly closed the DeHart's Marina ramp, is under investigation, he said. A failed valve also contributed to the spill, Juneau Fire Marshal Rich Etheridge said in a prepared statement.

Juneau Police have confiscated videotape from surveillance cameras at Auke Bay Harbormaster Bob Clouder's office, he said.

"It's a significant amount and we're trying to get this spill cleaned up as fast as possible to minimize the impact," said Robert Nakama, a lieutenant with the U.S. Coast Guard's marine safety office.

Most of the spill was diesel, along with 35 gallons of gasoline, according to a state report.

Fire and police officials arrived on the scene at 4:20 a.m. after a passer-by who smelled fuel called 911, Mohrmann said. Patches of diesel covered much of the water and a pungent smell permeated the air.

When fire officials arrived, the fire was burning in a 25-square-foot area in the water and flames were 60 feet high, Etheridge said. Firefighters used foam to extinguish the blaze and prevent it from spreading. About 25 firefighters were on the scene and had the blaze under control in 21 minutes, Etheridge said.

No boats were damaged by fire and no injuries were reported, Etheridge said.

Officials said there were no reported effects to wildlife. They expect to collect most of the diesel and what they cannot get will likely evaporate off the water, said Scot Tiernan, an environmental specialist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Unlike crude oil, Tiernan said gasoline evaporates immediately and diesel also tends not to linger.

The ramp and rocks underneath it were charred and damage is estimated at $12,000, Etheridge said.

"We were very fortunate the wind direction was headed in the direction it was (away from boats). Otherwise we could have had thousands or millions of dollars of damage," Mohrmann said.

The fuel facility is designed so fuel lines run from tanks on the marina property under the ramp and out to a fueling dock. Three black fuel lines could be seen dangling under the ramp.

Petro Marine Services of Juneau owns the fueling facility. The company had no comment Tuesday, but was on site helping with the cleanup. DeHart's Marina owner Dick Deems said the fueling dock cannot be used for now. The closest fueling dock for boaters is at Fisherman's Bend in Auke Bay, he said.

Deems, who owns the ramp, was repairing it Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the state DEC and U.S. Coast Guard were containing and lifting the spill with booms and absorbent material.

DeHart's Marina is next to Statter Harbor, which is owned by the city. The public boat launch remained closed Tuesday, Clouder said. Launch ramps were available at Amalga and Douglas Harbors as well as North Douglas.

State officials are concerned about the amount of fuel that has accumulated along the shore, he said. They will evaluate the situation before deciding when to re-open the boat launch.

At first boats were only allowed into Statter Harbor on a case-by-case basis, but later officials decided to allow them to come and go. Boaters are asked to travel slowly to avoid stirring up the diesel, Clouder said. The city is putting lights on the booms so boaters do not hit them, he said.

Commercial fisherman Roy Campbell had hoped to go silver salmon fishing Tuesday morning but found it was more prudent to stay put and not stir up the fuel, he said.

Campbell criticized officials for not removing fuel from the harbor efficiently enough and letting it accumulate on boats. Diesel will soften the paint on his 37-foot power troller, the Ocean Bandit, he said.

"Look at the oil on my boat," Campbell said. "What am I supposed to do - go out there until it washes off?"

Boaters should contact Clouder, the Auke Bay harbormaster, about removing fuel from boats, Juneau Port Director John Stone said.

Ken Hill and Page Brumbley of Cordova docked their 49-foot troller at Statter Harbor for a couple of days while on business in Juneau.

The smell of diesel awakened Brumbley on Tuesday morning, she said.

"The smell is very pungent," she said as they walked down a dock to catch a city bus.

The couple hoped to leave the harbor Tuesday night to get away from the odor before they head to Haines and Skagway on Wednesday, they said.

• Tara Sidor can be reached at tara.sidor@juneauempire.com.



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