Boat fire on Willard Bay 'popping, like fireworks'

Saturday , July 04, 2015 - 11:10 PM

WILLARD — A relaxing day on Willard Bay went up in flames for one group of Box Elder County boaters Friday.

Eyewitness Tiffany Rushton, of Pleasant View, captured dramatic video and photographs of a boat that caught on fire about 3 p.m. in the middle of the bay.

Rushton was out on the bay with her aunt and uncle, Jon and Sue Stucky, of Nibley, when her uncle noticed smoke on a nearby boat and asked, “Is that a fire out there?”

They reached the boat in just a few minutes, Rushton said, and found the driver had jumped off to join all the other occupants in the water.

“Everyone was off, floating on the tubes,” she said. 

The flames from the fire were 20 to 30 feet high, Rushton estimated, adding, “I thought it was scary. I didn’t know if it was really going to blow up.”

The fire was noisy: “It was popping, like fireworks,” she said.

The fire was extinguished by people on personal watercraft zooming by, back and forth, splashing the burning boat with water, said Willard Bay State Park manager James Morgan, who, along with state park rangers and the Willard City Fire Department, assisted at the scene.

Morgan told the Standard-Examiner on Saturday there were two people on the 1987-model boat when the fire started, apparently due to the engine backfiring. The boaters tried using a fire extinguisher, he said, but, “By the time they got to it, the flames were at a point they didn’t feel safe remaining in the vessel so they jumped overboard.”

Tiffany Rushton of Pleasant View shot video and photos of a boat fire on Willard Bay Friday.

All six people, whose names have not been released, were wearing life jackets, Morgan said. They were picked up by other boaters and then, by park and fire department officials.

“Luckily there weren’t any injuries to the passengers,” he said.

The boat was a total loss and was towed to the North Marina, where it was loaded on the owner’s boat trailer, the park manager said.

Rushton said her family pulled two of the tubers into their boat; “They seemed fine; they were all OK, no injuries,” she said.

One of the rescued women told Rushton the fire broke out after the boat’s captain had been trying to get the engine started.

The incident was considered an accident and no charges are pending against the boat owners, Morgan said. He did say it is important for boaters to keep current on safety inspections and make sure all fire extinguishers and spark arrestors are working.

“We haven’t had a boat fire like this in a long time that I can remember,” Morgan said.

Although the personal watercraft operators were effective in getting the fire extinguished, Morgan said park officials caution the public not to try to put fires out themselves. Driving at high speeds and splashing water puts other people at risk in an effort to save property, he said.

Rushton said it was her first boating outing at Willard Bay this summer, and the day began with another fire-related incident.

On the drive to the state park, she said, her family passed the spot on Interstate 15 in Willard where a garbage truck had caught on fire.

Contact reporter Becky Cairns at 801-625-4276 or bcairns@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @bccairns or like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SEbeckycairns.

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