Nelly Florez and Elisa Martinez, who both work for Sarasota County at the Higel Park boat ramp next door, said they walked outside when they smelled smoke.
“We came out and that one with the ashes started the fire — the whole thing — the fire then went to the blue one and the green one on the right, and the white one on the left,” Flores said.
The blue boat Flores referred to — the Charis out of Fort Walton Beach — was one of two boats that were fully engulfed by flames when Venice firefighters arrived shortly after 1:40 p.m.
Sail la Vie, out of Sarasota, had scorch marks on its side.
A fourth boat, on the starboard side of the one where the fire started, had its sails catch on fire and some scorching on its hull. At least one dock was heavily burned as well.
“Our units arrived on the scene and two vessels were fully involved when we got here, so we called out for multiple units,” Venice Fire Chief Shawn Carvey said. “We were able to get water on the fire rather quickly.”
Crews from Sarasota County and the Nokomis volunteer fire departments responded to the scene, as did Venice Police, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Sea Tow.
Northbound Tarpon Center Drive was closed as emergency personnel responded.
No one was injured in the fire.
Carvey said the U.S. Coast Guard will be called in as will the state fire marshal because of the value of the vessels damaged.
Firefighters had to extinguish the fire quickly and used both foam and water, so they wouldn’t sink the two boats on fire.
“They carried a large amount of diesel fuel in them, up to 600 gallons a vessel,” Carvey said. “If you end up sinking the vessel, then you have a hazardous situation.”
The fire was under control by 3:40 p.m.
Carvey said early reports are that one vessel recently had an electrical issue that may have helped cause the fire.
“Technically right now, it’s going to go as undetermined until there’s further investigation,” Carvey said.
The boats were still too hot for investigators to board.
“It’s going to take a while to cool it,” Carvey said.