Police continue to investigate Oct. 29 boat fire

A 58-year-old Homer area man last week suffered burn injuries in a suicide attempt when he tried to kill himself by burning a fishing boat in dry dock at Northern Enterprise Boatyard. Homer Volunteer Fire Department emergency medical technicians treated the man about 10 minutes after the boat, the Slava II, exploded on fire and he came out of the burning boat. Because of fears that the man might be armed, EMTs and firefighters were delayed in fighting the fire until Homer Police could secure the scene, said Homer Fire Chief Bob Painter. The man did not have any weapons when he came out of the boat. EMTs took the man to South Peninsula Hospital for treatment of burns and smoke inhalation. 

The fiberglass boat had major damage, police said in a press release. Although other boats also were in dry dock on cribs within 20 feet of the Slava II, firefighters kept the fire from spreading and damaging other boats.

“The boats were fairly close,” said Homer Police Lt. Randy Rosencrans. “The volunteer fire department did a wonderful job in protecting the other boats.”

At about 8:10 p.m. Oct. 29, police received a 911 call from a woman that a relative threatened to burn her father’s property at the boat yard on Kachemak Drive. Officers responded and determined a man had boarded the Slava II and threatened to kill himself by burning the boat. The man was the only person on the boat, Rosencrans said. Police responded and saw that the boat had been doused with an unknown accelerant. Police evacuated the boat yard on Kachemak Drive and firefighters stood by with a fire engine and ambulance. Officers negotiated with the man over the phone for more than four hours. The police psychological services consultant, Paul Morton, also stood by.

Later at about 1 a.m. Oct. 30, firefighters heard a large “whoompf” sound from an explosion on the boat, Painter said. The man then came out of the boat with burn injuries and firefighters moved in to attack the fire. Painter said because of concerns that the boat might have been rigged with explosives, firefighters fought the fire from the outside and did not enter the boat. Firefighters from Kachemak Emergency Services provided mutual aid. Rosencrans said the Slava II’s hull was intact but the cabin and everything inside the hull badly burned.

Rosencrans said the incident remains under investigation and charges are pending. The state fire marshal’s office investigated the fire as a crime scene, Painter said. He said he did not know what kind of accelerant was used to start the fire. Citing the ongoing investigation, Rosencrans said he couldn’t discuss other details about the incident. Police have not released the man’s name.

A large fire in March 2011 in a boat shed destroyed or heavily damaged four boats at Northern Enterprises. A mainstay of Homer’s marine services industry, Northern Enterprises has a lift for moving boats in and out of Kachemak Bay. Working and pleasure boats of all makes and vintage are stored there, usually on cribs, including many commercial fishing boats. Unlike the 2011 fire, which happened before a planned water and sewer line was built along Kachemak Drive, firefighters last week had easy access to fire hydrants, including a water line with hydrant extended into the yard itself at Northern Enterprise’s expense, Painter said. Painter said the new hydrant system worked “phenomenally well.”

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.