The owner of the houseboat, who lived on the boat, said he knows how the fire started. He said he lit a candle, and a nearby curtain blew into the flame, according to Division Chief Jason Shivers with the Forsyth County Fire Department. Shivers said the man told him the fire moved faster than anything he'd ever seen before.
By the time firefighters left station 9, located just under 3 miles away at about 9 a.m. Saturday, they could already see a column of black smoke rising from the marina. Firefighters arrived to find the houseboat burning, and a pontoon boat docked next to it also on fire. Officials say that both of those boats are a total loss, and that two other boats, a personal watercraft, and the dock all sustained significant damage from the heat of the fire.
Chief Shivers said the initial call reported people trapped on the dock, but firefighters actually found that while people were on an area of the dock beyond the fire and unable to leave due to the heat, none were actually trapped inside the burning boats.
Shivers said the situation that firefighters encountered could have been much worse. He explained that firefighters were able to locate the first engine at the entrance to the dock, and the boat that burned was near the front of the dock, minimizing the time needed to get water on the fire. "If this fire would have been on the next dock out, they would have had to lay about 300 feet of supply line down the dock before they could even begin to fight the fire," Shivers noted. "If it had been one of the farthest boats on that dock, the damaged could have been extensive before we could even begin to get water on the fire,."
Asked about a fire boat, Shivers explained that it's been discussed, but none of the counties that border Lake Lanier has one. Shivers said that a boat capable of fighting fires from the water side is something that needs to be considered. "If this had happened at night, we could have had people trapped on that dock and a very extensive fire that would be almost impossible to access."
Battalion Chief Paige Colwell credits workers at Port Royale Marina with the help they provided as well. "By the time we arrived, they already had a truck with a portable pump set up to try and do what they could, and were shutting off power to the area," she explained.
Shivers said the man who lived on the boat was not injured, and everyone nearby also made it off their boats, but one cat that lived on the houseboat did die in the fire.