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Charred boat, debris bring customers, problems to Hooters

A burning boat drifts along the Pithlachascotee River in Port Richey on Tuesday. The burning hull came to a rest against docks at a Hooters restaurant.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

A burning boat drifts along the Pithlachascotee River in Port Richey on Tuesday. The burning hull came to a rest against docks at a Hooters restaurant.

PORT RICHEY — A charred fiberglass hull still bobbed in the murky water in front of Hooters in Port Richey on Wednesday. But the crowds were back at the popular restaurant, which managers attributed in part to all the publicity from the boat fire that interrupted Tuesday's happy hour.

They are working with corporate higher-ups to figure out the insurance and cleanup, said assistant manager Jack Wagner. The dock has some char marks where it briefly caught fire. But the bigger problem, from Wagner's perspective, is the debris. He said it's important to remove the debris before the weekend, when Hooters expects some customers to arrive on boats.

Extracting the remains of the 20- to 30-foot boat is the responsibility of its owner, whom the Florida Department of Environmental Protection identified as Daniel Burnstein, 62, of Clearwater. He is working with the U.S. Coast Guard to arrange the removal.

Burnstein had just filled his 40-gallon gas tank at the Sunset Landing Marina across the Pithlachascotee River, said the marina's owner, Tim Tonkin. The boat got about 50 yards away before the engine exploded.

A female passenger on board bailed out right away. Burnstein dropped anchor and tried to put out the fire with an extinguisher. But the flames spread, and he swam ashore, too.

By then, the Port Richey police and firefighters had arrived, but water from their hoses couldn't reach the boat from the shore.

After about 20 minutes, the anchor line melted and the wind carried the flaming vessel toward Hooters.

The firefighters evacuated the restaurant. The boat slid between Hooters' two piers and the water's surface briefly ignited before the firefighters extinguished it.

Fuel from the wreckage will naturally rise to surface and evaporate, said Pamala Vazquez of the state Department of Environmental Protection office in Tampa. Authorities also set up a ring of sponge-like containment booms to absorb oil.

Burnstein declined to comment at the scene Tuesday and did not return a phone message Wednesday.

The woman on board, who gave her name only as Vicky, said she is sorry the accident happened and grateful no one was injured.

"It'll be a while before I'm back on a boat," she said. "I'll stick to my kayak."

Isaac Arnsdorf can be reached at iarnsdorf@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6232.

Charred boat, debris bring customers, problems to Hooters 07/29/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 29, 2009 8:50pm]
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