Officials are continuing their investigation of the large boathouse fire at Squalicum Harbor that is believed to have killed two people and destroyed about 10 recreational boats.
Jim Langei, 43, and Sterling Taylor, 33, were aboard their 42-foot power boat, Breakwind, inside the G-East boathouse when the fire occurred. They were believed to be the only people inside the boathouse when the fire was reported at 5:27 a.m., Friday, March 30.
Investigators from the Bellingham Fire Department and the Bellingham Police Department have not yet determined the cause of the fire and they anticipate the investigation will be ongoing for at least several weeks. Because the metal boathouse roof collapsed on top of the burnt vessels, divers and recovery boats have not yet been able to access most of the evidence from this fire.
On Saturday, the unified incident command, which includes the port, police, fire, the state Department of Ecology (Ecology) and the U.S. Coast Guard, developed plans for the recovery, cleanup and salvage operations and selected Global Diving and Salvage to conduct the work.
Divers from Global conducted preliminary dives on Friday to search for victims and assess underwater conditions. Underwater visibility on Friday was just two to three feet and safety requirements that restricted some areas of the underwater site made the assessment difficult. Recovery of the victims is the highest priority for this effort.
Global, a West Coast company with a branch in Anacortes, has begun staging equipment and personnel at Squalicum Harbor. High winds and unstable weather during the weekend complicated those efforts, which include moving a 150-foot barge with a 150-ton crane.
Ecology remains on scene to help assess environmental damage and oversee cleanup operations. The Coast Guard also is assisting with environmental protection and safety at the site.
The sunken boats contained gasoline and diesel fuel, as well as smaller amounts of engine oil. The amount released into water is not known but combined, the boats likely had several hundred gallons of fuel on board.
The fire scene has been surrounded with oil spill containment boom and cleanup materials have been deployed. Ecology has a dedicated website for this incident: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/spills/incidents/bellinghammarina/bellinghammarina.html
The Port of Bellingham has hired NRC Environmental Services as a cleanup contractor to assist in environmental cleanup.
Because of the ongoing investigation and site safety, people remain restricted from passing beyond the F Dock at Squalicum Harbor. All of the impacted areas are part of the Gate 3 section of Squalicum Harbor, which is accessed near the Bellingham Yacht Club.
On Saturday port officials and police met with families of the victims and owners of the boathouse and the boats to inform them about the efforts that are underway and to answer their questions.
All work has been suspended on the Port’s construction of new pilings and floats on the F-East, F-West, G-West and G-West areas of Squalicum Harbor, located adjacent to the fire scene and that project will be delayed.