Two injured in boat fire
Multiple agencies responded to a boat fire Sunday afternoon that injured two people.
Three recreational fishermen were about 15 miles off the Venice Inlet in the Gulf of Mexico when a flash fire engulfed their boat.
Derek Rawl, 25, of St. Petersburg, remained in a St. Petersburg hospital Monday.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the men were fishing off a reef around 1:35 p.m. When they lifted the cover to view the inboard fuel tanks, they noticed more water in the bilge than usual.
The bilge pump wasn’t connected.
While they were trying to rewire the bilge pump, a spark ignited fuel vapors, creating a flash fire that tore through the entire 22-foot cabin cruiser.
“It burned the captain’s hands,” said FWC spokesman Gary Morse.
“The fire went from the stern underneath the deck toward the bow and back” up, hitting Rawl, who was standing in the companion hatch, from behind.
“Had he been facing the other way the injuries could have been more severe,” Morse said.
All three jumped overboard. When the flames subsided, they re-entered the boat to extinguish the remaining fire.
They tried to restart the engine.
Good Samaritan Vincent Cimillo, of Venice, happened to be nearby and assisted the men, towing them back to the Nokomis boat ramp, where Rawl was treated by Sarasota County fire personnel and transported to a hospital in St. Petersburg.
The captain, Gary Burke, 44, of Sarasota, then navigated the boat to a dock at The Crow’s Nest where Sarasota County paramedics were waiting.
He was not hospitalized Monday. The third passenger, Todd Weaver, 32, also of Sarasota, was not injured.
The FWC is still investigating the fire, but its preliminary finding is fuel fumes were ignited by a spark, which caused the blaze.
“It’s one of the most common causes of boat fires,” Morse said.
“It’s more common with inboard engines, but this was an outboard engine with internal gas tanks.”
The lesson, Morse said, when making repairs “be cognizant of fuel fumes gathering in bilges.”