TAMPA — A few trees were singed, some bushes burned and a boat was charred beyond recognition, but no one was injured and no structures damaged when a large boat caught fire along the Hillsborough River at Lowry Park, Tampa firefighters said.
They credit a quick-thinking boater who did doughnuts at a safe distance from the burning vessel and pushed it into the path of the spray from firefighters on shore.
Tampa Fire Rescue received a call about a burning boat near the Lowry Park Boat Ramp at about 11 a.m. on Sunday, agency spokesman Jason Penny said. Firefighters arrived quickly but the boat was already enveloped in flames, Penny said.
Firefighters estimated the length of the vessel at 12 feet to 15 feet but they couldn’t tell the make and model. They managed to pull the boat closer to shore and in range of their firehoses by reeling in the line that connected the vessel to the docks.
But soon, the fire burned through the line and the boat drifted back into the river. The shore opposite the park is lined with waterfront docks.
Some people riding personal watercraft nearby asked a fire captain if he wanted help towing the boat in but he waved them off, saying it was too dangerous.
“One of the guys drove towards it anyway and began circling around it, doing doughnuts over and over,” Penny said. “He was far enough away to stay safe, but close enough that the ripples from his Jet Ski began to push the boat back towards the shore where our engine was parked so our crews could put it out. Everyone got very lucky.”
Tyler Riggs was at a nearby playground with his wife and his three daughters when he heard a loud pop echo across the river before they noticed thick, black smoke over the tree line.
”The firefighters would pull the hose as long as they could to spray the boat and then it would start to drift off,” said Riggs, 35.
”Then, it was, like, the most Florida moment ever: These guys coming down the river on Jet Skis started circling the fiery boat and splashing it with their wake, kind of coaxing it back towards the firefighters.”
The cause of the fire was under investigation. Fire rescue did not identify the boat owner or the Good Samaritan.