PORTLAND – Three people leaped into the chilly Columbia River while their boat went up in a blaze of flames Friday morning.
Two men and one woman were rescued a short time later and transported to area hospitals, authorities said. They were all adults and two were in serious condition, according to Lt. Mary Lindstrand, with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.
A Port of Portland fire crew quickly responded but the boat was already sinking and engulfed in flames when they arrived. U.S. Coast Guard officials told KGW there was an explosion aboard the boat that sparked the fire.
Witness John Tichenor said everything happened very fast. "The fire was fast and hot, and the sinking was quick.. I observed one man jump from the boat and be rescued," he told KGW.
Tichenor also managed to snap a few photos before the boat disappeared under water.
Gary Krueger had just helped gas up the boat and next thing he knew, he was helping with the rescue. Krueger helped pull one of the men out of the water and then called 9-1-1. "I think one engine was running and they went to start the other engine and there was just a tremendous explosion," he said.
The trio had just put gas in the boat and backed it away from the dock near NE 35th Avenue and Marine Drive when the explosion occurred, Lindstrand said. The 32-foot vessel was destroyed in the fire and had just been purchased, used, by the new owners.
A debris field was scattered in the river and crews were trying to contain it, Lindstrand said. There was also an oil slick on the water after the remains of the boat sank.
Three nearby buildings were also damaged by the fire and extreme heat.
The victims' names have not yet been released but Lindstrand said they were from Hermiston. The dock owner said they told him they were planning on making the voyage home Friday, right after gassing up.
Initial estimates were that the fire caused about $20,000-worth of damage.