Burning yacht spilled fuel in Tacoma waterway. Here’s what we know about the cleanup

A yacht named Pandemonium caught on fire last week in the Thea Foss Waterway, dumping 40 gallons of gasoline into Puget Sound.

Tacoma Fire responded to a recreational vessel on fire at about 6:45 p.m. on Jan. 24 at 1900 E. D St, near the former Johnny’s Dock Restaurant & Marina. According to Tacoma Fire’s investigation report, the fire started near the rear of the boat where the engine was.

Firefighters extinguished the fire within 30 minutes, according to Tacoma Fire spokesman Joe Meinecke. No other boats were exposed to the flames, he added.

According to the report, the owner said he was not having mechanical issues and the last time he had work done on the boat was November 2021, which was cosmetic. The cause of the fire is undetermined.

Tacoma Source Control and Washington State Department of Ecology also responded.

According to Ecology’s incident summary, on Jan. 25 at 6:34 p.m., the fire was extinguished and the boat sank at the dock. The owner contacted their insurance and hired Salish Marine, a marine towing, commercial and salvage company, to remove the burnt yacht, with Global Dive and Salvage to assist, the report stated.

The incident summary stated the vessel was estimated to have 40 gallons of gasoline onboard and an unknown amount of lubrication oil.

In a Jan. 25 email, Brittany Flittner, Ecology’s project specialist for Spill Prevention, Preparedness and Response, wrote a sheen was visible from the vessel that was mostly fire debris, fire char and fiberglass ash.

“Unfortunately, this is not a recoverable product and won’t dissipate quickly,” Flittner wrote. “Responders are unable to boom the vessel due to the gasoline fumes, which can be highly volatile when boomed and increases the risk of fire. Because of this, the sheen is visible up to the Murray Morgan Memorial Bridge.”

Pandemonium, a 40-foot yacht, was not able to be pulled out of the water Jan. 24.

The yacht was refloated Jan. 25 with airbags, according to an email from Flittner. The vessel was de-watered, and the contractors mopped up what they felt was safe to pick up without creating a fire hazard, she added.

Pandemonium was removed from the water on the morning of Jan. 26, Flittner wrote in her final update. She said in the email that contractors were completing a final mop-up and would pull out the remaining absorbent pads once they are done with cleanup.

Bill Hill, a boat owner at Delin Docks, said he noticed the aftermath of the fire at 9 p.m. Jan. 24. The next morning at about 5 a.m., he saw globs of oil, Hill said. He was never notified of the boat fire.

On Saturday, Hill and another person pulled out burnt life vests and the side panel of the boat that had sunk. Hill said he never saw anyone cleaning up after the fire.

“The part that really bothered me is there was no pollution response,” he said in a phone interview Monday.

A dock hand pulls a burnt piece of the boat out of Thea Foss Waterway on Jan. 28, 2023.
A dock hand pulls a burnt piece of the boat out of Thea Foss Waterway on Jan. 28, 2023.

Ty Keltner, communication manager for Ecology’s Spills Prevention, Preparedness and Response, said the boat owner is responsible to clean up the spill as soon as possible.

Keltner said any amount of spill will impact the water. The spill response checklist for Pandemonium noted there was a “potential or actual spill of 25 gallons or more to waters of the state.”

According to the Department of Ecology, if a spill occurs, you should stop the spill and warn others in the area immediately, shut off any ignition sources, contain the spill and report it.

Keltner said boat owners who have a spill should call 1-800-OILS-911, the Washington Management Division’s 24/7 line, as soon as possible.

Ecology receives more than 4,000 spill reports annually.