CHARELVOIX — As Lake Michigan and local waterways were filled on Saturday with Boyne Thunder festivities, two vessels needed to be rescued after a power boat burst into flames and a pontoon began to sink.
Both instances happened on Saturday after the power boats paraded through Charlevoix; an annual occurrence that brings thousands of people to watch as the speedsters cruise through Charlevoix’s Pine River Channel and roar out into Lake Michigan.
The area surrounding the channel was particularly congested with boat traffic, with dozens of power boats and spectator boats crowding along the route and gathering at the end of Charlevoix’s lighthouse pier.
Around 2:30 p.m. one of the power boats participating in the Boyne Thunder Poker Run burst into flames.
The engine compartment of the 2002 36’ Douglas Marine Skater caught fire not far from Charlevoix’s Big Rock Point and within three minutes the entire boat was completely engulfed in flames, according to Charlevoix Fire Chief Dan Thorp.
Although the exact cause of the fire is unknown, the boat’s built-in fire suppression system was unable to counter the intensity of the blaze. The three passengers on board leaped out of the vessel and were rescued by nearby Boyne Thunder power boat participants. No one was injured in the incident.
The flames roared for three hours and proved to be a challenge for local firefighting efforts, who had no fire boat or nearby hydrant, reported Thorp.
“We were trying to get close enough to the boat to put the fire out,” he said. “There was just no easy access to it.”
Charlevoix Station’s Coast Guard assisted on the lake with their fire pump, but were ultimately unequipped to tame the flames.
“There was about 100 gallons of fuel on the boat that kept reigniting,” Thorp said.
As the wind blew the blazing vessel closer to the shoreline, the Charlevoix Fire Department was able to extinguish the inferno as firefighters waded into the water and dowsed the boat with lake water sucked into their portable water system.
As of Monday, July 11, the burnt-out remnants of the boat remain on the shoreline near Big Rock Point. There are removal efforts being coordinated with the boat owner’s insurance company and the salvage company Lyons Marine Construction.
Earlier in the day on Saturday, a sinking pontoon boat who had joined the throngs of others at the end of the Charlevoix pier was also rescued by the Coast Guard.
The U.S. Coast Guard Charlevoix Station assisted in the rescue of the 27′ boat with six people on board that was taking on water in Lake Michigan.
The boat was able to progress at a higher speed, but would flood at slower speeds. The Coast Guard swiftly towed the pontoon through Charlevoix’s channel with their 45’ response boat and moored it in the Charlevoix marina, according to Coast Guard Chief Brad Bishop.
The Coast Guard had a busy day on Saturday, but nothing they couldn’t handle, said Bishop.
“We have some outstanding and motivated personnel on our team,” Bishop said. “We always find a way to make it work.”
The Coast Guard station in Charlevoix has two boats, a 29’ and 45’ response boat. On Saturday, three Coast Guardsmen were on the smaller vessel and four were on the larger one. An additional three guardsmen, including Bishop, were running the command center, which coordinates everything from the bridge operations to emergency services.
Both boats were necessary to manage the crowds and the emergency calls on Saturday.
Bishop said the summer brings especially high volumes of boat traffic to the Charlevoix area, and he urges caution to all boaters.
“The message is preaching safety … make sure you have your safety equipment before you leave the dock,” he said.
“Although we are capable of saving lives and property, we want to put you in the best situation possible to help you boat safely.”
More:Subscribe to get the latest developments
Contact reporter Annie Doyle at email@example.com