Both victims were rescued by nearby boaters who plucked them out of the water and took them to the Gooseberry Point ferry dock about 5:30 p.m., where they were taken by ambulance to St. Joseph hospital, said Chief Jim Petrie of Fire District 17 at Sandy Point.
Because of medical privacy laws, the victims’ names were not immediately disclosed.
Bill Hewett, assistant chief of the Bellingham Fire Department, said a man suffered burns that were serious but not life-threatening, and a woman suffered minor traumatic injuries, apparently after being hit by flying debris.
“Witnesses on the beach had seen the boat explode,” said Petrie, who staged two fire engines near homes at Neptune Beach in case the flaming hull drifted ashore. “There were four to five boats that surrounded this vessel pretty quick and picked up the two patients. We were told that the people had jumped in the water and were rescued by boats in the area.”
Ultimately, the boat burned to the waterline and sank, Petrie said. He described it as a crabbing or fishing vessel.
“Coming from a quarter-mile away, there was a column of thick, black smoke,” Petrie said, adding that the vessel was engulfed in flames by the time he arrived at the shoreline.
Coast Guard officials are investigating the incident but could not say what caused the fire, said Petty Officer 1st Class Levi Read in Astoria, Ore. He said the vessel was a 25-foot gas-powered Lummi Nation tribal boat. It carried 30 to 40 gallons of fuel, and a light sheen was seen on the water.
Several additional Whatcom County fire agencies assisted with the emergency response, including Fire District 8 (Marietta), Fire District 7 (Ferndale) and Bellingham Fire, which sent its fire boat.