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Cleanup continues on Tarpon boat fire

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TARPON SPRINGS -

A fire marshal this morning will begin determining what caused a three-alarm fire Tuesday night that destroyed a shrimp boat and threatened the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks.

The blaze started at roughly 7:45 p.m. on an 80-foot shrimp boat called the Skye Marie, which was docked at 1000 Roosevelt Blvd., said Donald Sayre, deputy fire chief for Tarpon Springs Fire Rescue.

At the time, the Skye Marie was one of three boats tied together, Sayre said. Firefighters were able to free one of the boats, leaving the Skye Marie and the other still attached, Sayre said. No matter how much foam firefighters sprayed on the Skye Marie, though, the fire wouldn’t go out.

“Everything we tried just wasn’t getting it,” he said.

One problem was the owner of the Skye Marie, Billy Harris, had just put $5,000 worth of diesel fuel on board, and he already had $1,000 worth, Sayre said. The vessel finally started rolling and sinking, releasing some of the fuel into the water, the deputy chief said.

When that happened, firefighters found themselves dealing with pools of flaming fuel floating toward other areas of the dock, but they succeeded in putting out those spot fires, which didn’t cause a significant amount of damage, Sayre said.

“It got very interesting very quickly when that happened,” he said.

Investigators still don’t know how much damage the vessel next to the Skye Marie sustained, but the boat is still buoyant this morning, Sayre said.

Determining what caused the fire will be complicated by the Sky Marie’s sinking.

Boat owners Billy and Sue Harris said they had no idea how the fire started.

“All I could say it had to be an act of God,” Billy Harris said.

Harris and his family members watched firefighters battle the blaze into the night.

He said he worked on the boat 2-5 p.m. Tuesday. It had no power, no generator and no engine running, he said. Monday morning, he loaded the boat with about 5,000 gallons of fuel, which cost him about $18,000, he said.

“I’ve been here a long time,” Harris said. “Other than the ‘No Name Storm’ this is probably one of the worse fires that I’ve seen in Tarpon Springs.”

There were no reported injuries from the fire.

Firefighters from the Clearwater Fire Department, Largo Fire Department and the U.S. Coast Guard helped bring the blaze under control.

Joe Reis, stepson of owner Billy Harris, said he’s concerned for his family, other boat owners and the environment.

“You also have to think about everybody else’s livelihood on the river,” Reis said. “You have diesel fuel spilling in the river that is burning. That could burn a number of boats that are not theirs. That would basically fall on their shoulders to repair this.”

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