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Pinellas County boat bursts into flames near Bay Pines Bridge

Published Feb. 20, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — Firefighters from across the county responded to a boat engulfed in flames reported around 3:30 p.m. Friday in the waters near Bay Pines Bridge, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

The boat's owner, Ken Rankin, 29, said the moment he turned the key of his Formula 29 boat, it erupted into fire and smoke. It was docked at Lighthouse Point Marina at 8610 Bay Pines Blvd.

Rankin and his friend, Adis Bektic, were both onboard when the boat caught fire, but immediately jumped off of it and onto the dock. Rankin said he suffered some singed hairs but declined medical treatment. Rankin said Bektic was treated for first-degree burns to his arms at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.

"After we jumped out I tried to use the dock hose to put it out," Rankin said, "but we could see that wasn't going to do the job."

Marina dock worker Paulie Limo said the flames quickly burned through the ropes holding the boat to the dock. It slipped free and into the open water. Soon after, a Sheriff's Office boat arrived and acted as a tugboat, nudging the burning boat to keep it from floating back toward the dock.

"They used the front of their boat and rammed it a couple times to make sure it didn't come into contact with any other boats or pieces of the dock," said Lealman Fire District Chief Randy Keirn. "So it was actually pretty brave of them, because that was a big fire."

After clearing the marina, the boat drifted across the water toward the Bay Pines boat ramp at 9600 Bay Pines Blvd. Officials said the fire was extinguished around 5 p.m. and they towed the boat closer to the boat ramp and left it sitting in about a foot of water. Keirn said Rankin will be responsible for removing the boat from the boat ramp.

Rankin said he bought the boat about nine months ago but planned on selling it soon. The boat was not insured.

"I really hadn't planned on keeping it that much longer, and well, I guess after today I won't be keeping it much longer," he said. "I guess my next boat will have to be named Flamerider or something. Something to do with fire."

Times staff writer Sara DiNatale contributed to this report. Contact Megan Reeves at mreeves@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4153. Follow @mreeves_tbt.