After more than a dozen boats burned at the Highport Marina on Lake Texoma Wednesday, clean up and environmental crews began their work to remove debris and ensure that chemicals and fuel didn’t spread into the surrounding waters.
The fire broke out shortly after 9 a.m. Wednesday and damaged or destroyed 17 boats at the marina’s U Dock. The blaze drew multiple fire departments from Collinsville, Denison, Gunter, Locust, North Texas Regional Airport — Perrin Field, Preston and Sherman and sent thick black smoke, visible for miles, billowing into the air. No one was seriously injured in the fire, but only three boats were saved from the flames. Highport Marina staff members and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers largely led the cleanup and containment efforts.
“We currently have some of our folks assisting with getting the booms that float on top of the water around that dock to contain any chemicals, fuel, oil or floating debris,” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Assistant Lake Manager Shae Harrison said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “That’s to keep it from spreading to the entire cove, there.”
Grayson County Emergency Management Coordinator Sarah Somers said the Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating the fire and is coordinating with other state agencies, including the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Texas Division of Emergency Management, as well as the Corps of Engineers, who responded to the scene Wednesday.
“We contacted the TCEQ when we became aware of the fire in order to get someone up to look at the environmental hazard both to responders and to the public from air to ground to water,” Somers said.
While waiting for TCEQ personnel to respond, Somers said they also contacted the National Weather Service, and the agency conducted a plume model to project the travel of the smoke. Somers said it was to know, particularly for wind shifts, where any potential hazards were going and also inform residents so they could take protective measures and avoid breathing it in.
Harrison said all marinas that operate on Lake Texoma must adhere to specific safety regulations at both the local and national level.
“Marinas must have a valid lease with the government to operate a concession on the lake,” Harrison said. “They have to follow all national fire code and county septic code ordinances and rules.”
The assistant lake manager said the Corp of Engineers conducted a routine safety inspection of the Highport Marina in April 2016, though he did not have any information as to how the marina performed on the inspection.
“Our real estate office does annual inspections on all out grants at all of our lakes, nationwide,” Harrison. “It’s a once a year thing they go through and make sure all the electrical components are meeting code. They also inspect the general safety of all the walkways and everything going to all these boat houses.”
With the incident still under investigation, officials have not yet cited a cause for the blaze. Harrison said he heard multiple stories as to how the fire began and did not wish to speculate on the cause. However, Harrison said, in his experience, that boats often catch fire when ventilation mechanisms fail to disperse flammable fumes that build around the engine.
“A lot of times, on these boats, the ventilation inside the engine compartment may not be operating correctly and a lot of gas fumes can actually build up in there. Anytime they come in contact with a cigarette or even just a simple spark it can cause a boat to catch fire and explode.”
Herald Democrat Criminal Justice Editor Jerry Whiteley contributed to this article.