Spectacular Fire Destroys 100-Foot Yacht

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fire destroyed a yacht at a Shelter Island boatyard Wednesday in a roaring two-alarm blaze that blackened the view of the downtown skyline and threatened other boats in the crowded harbor.

The Mojo, a 100-foot private pleasure boat undergoing renovation and fumigation, caught fire at 3:30 p.m. and was rapidly consumed in flames, San Diego Fire Department authorities and witnesses said.

There were no injuries. Damage was estimated at $500,000.

"It was a beautiful boat-- was, that is," said an onlooker, one of hundreds of people who crowded the Nielsen Beaumont Marine boatyard where the yacht was docked.

Boatyard workers noticed a small flame burning through the blue fumigation tent covering the yacht and briefly used fire extinguishers, but the fire raced through the luxury boat within minutes, pouring black smoke into the sky, said Joe Felix, a deckhand on a nearby yacht.

"Man, it went up real fast," Felix said. "The fire extinguishers didn't even slow it down."

The diesel-powered yacht, its fiberglass top charred and caved in, listed badly and smoldered for several hours, but it apparently was not in danger of sinking.

Fire investigators said the blaze was caused by a light bulb that apparently ignited some unspecified combustible material. Other details were not available.

Fire officials declined comment on whether the fire could have been related to a combination of paint fumes and the fumigant used by the Harbor Pest Control company to kill insects.

The chemical agent, Vikane, being used to fumigate the yacht is the same nonflammable material used in fumigating houses, said Fire Department spokesman Jon McDonald. The boat was painted last week and paint cans on the dock burst from the heat, witnesses said.

"We don't know what happened. Everything was fine, and then there was fire everywhere," said Don Olson, a boatyard employee who had worked on the Mojo.

The Newport Beach owner, whose name was not disclosed, was expected to arrive at the dock late Wednesday, McDonald said.

Firefighters had the fire under control soon after arriving, but continued to pour water onto smoldering pockets deep in the boat's narrow corridors for several hours before beginning to pump the blackened water overboard.

A firefighter fell through a weakened floor but was not injured, McDonald said. Fighting a fire in the narrow confines of a yacht is more difficult than fighting a standard building fire, he said.

"The halls are narrow and the rooms are small, and smoke is even thicker. It would be like walking down the street with your eyes closed," McDonald said.

Initially, it was feared Wednesday's strong winds would blow the fire to nearby boats and start a chain reaction in the crowded harbor, but the two yachts docked alongside the Mojo received only minor heat blisters. The dock also was scorched.

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