One man suffered serious burns and was flown by Trauma Star air ambulance for treatment at Ryder Trauma Center in Miami. His condition was not believed to be life-threatening and his identity was not available before press time.
Nearby marina residents reported hearing explosions in the cabin of a 44-foot catamaran tied up at the north end of the dock. Most suspect some type of propane accident triggered the 8:30 p.m. inferno.
“The cabin was engulfed in flames within seconds,” said John Hull, who lives aboard the 41-foot Ocean Cruiser “Vidurria,” berth about six feet away from the two boats that were devastated.
“We had a little party going on with four or five people. Then, boom!” Hull said. “Flames were coming out of that boat everywhere.”
Hull and a companion tried to enter the catamaran’s cabin to check on the occupant but were forced back by the intense fire.
“Everything in the cabin was aflame,” said Hull, who was burned on his arm and leg during the attempt.
The catamaran owner, while injured, escaped out a forward hatch.
Pam Owsinek, who lives on the “Vidurria,” said she heard three separate explosions. She believes they came from propane tanks used for cooking aboard the catamaran sailboat.
Strong winds from the west carried the fire to an adjacent Hatteras yacht, which caught fire. Its two liveaboards jumped into the marina waters and swam to a dock ladder.
Hull tried to douse the flames with a garden hose “but it didn’t do much.” With the nearby boats lost, he used the hose to wet down his liveaboard home, likely saving it.
“It was extremely hot,” Oswinek said, who escaped from the “Vidurria” rear deck when a neighbor cut open a fabric enclosure at the stern. In the crowded confusion on the dock, Oswinek was knocked into the water.
“It was pretty harrowing,” Hull said. “If the wind had been coming out of the north, there would have been nothing to stop” the fire from spreading to other vessels.
“All these boats are loaded with plenty of fuel, hundreds of gallons. It would have really got going,” he said. “The fire department did a really nice job and got it knocked down quick.”
Monroe County Fire Rescue’s Tavernier Station 22 was the first to respond to the Mangrove Marina blaze, soon joined by other departments.
Monroe County fire marshals are investigating the fire.
“It was pretty wicked there for a while,” marina resident Tim Jones said. “Thirty seconds and [the two boats] were gone. There’s nothing left.”