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Date of Issue: June 23, 2005

Father's Day plundered, larger disaster averted
am siam pic
Going, going, gone
John O'Donnell's $300,000 boat went up in smoke, and his Father's Day fishing trip went with it. Left photo: boat burning at the dock captured by Cortez fishing captain and tour-boat operator, Kim Ibasfalean. Two smaller photos, shot by Mary Grimes, boat owner at the Bradenton Beach Marina on the same dock as where the boat burned. Mary had the presence of mind to document the fire, beginning to end.
Click image to enlarge

Bradenton Beach Marina owner Alan Bazzy said it best, "It could have been a huge disaster, setting the other boats on fire like dominoes." He arrived Sunday shortly after firefighters at the scene of a boat fire midway out on the long dock fronting the storage building at the bayfront marina.

Instead, as luck would have it, when the boat caught fire at about 3:20 p.m., owner John O'Donnell was nearly set to go with friends on an overnight offshore fishing trip, but he was still enroute to the marina. Further evidence it was "lucky" were two empty slips on either side of the burning boat, although the adjacent tall pilings were scarred and smoking after the 33-foot pleasure boat was removed. It was powered by diesel fuel, which is not as combustible as gasoline, another luck of the draw.

It wasn't just luck, but quick thinking and a quick response to the fire by marina employees and the West Manatee Fire and Rescue District that spared numerous other boats and marina residents. With the vessel fully engulfed in flames at the dock, firefighters, who marina manager Mike Bazzy said arrived in minutes, doused it with a foam mixture. Then, as firefighters on the district's fire boat attempted to tow it to the marina haul-out, it sank just a short distance from the dock.

O'Donnell arrived at the marina as the bow of the boat was sinking, taking his Father's Day fishing trip with it. Wife Vicki was right behind him with daughter Brooke in a race to the marina from the O'Donnell home in Holmes Beach, frantic that her husband, Ed Hagens and Tommy Butler were already on the boat.

"We're just thankful they're not out there [fishing] when it happened," she said.

The 2002 33-Proline Express with twin inboard diesel engines was valued by John O'Donnell at $300,000. He said he'd been out on the boat the previous day with no problems, and that one of the marina staff told him they could hear the generator running as they tried to put out the fire from the dock at the rear of the boat. The origin of the fire is a "mystery," witnesses agreed.

Capt. Kurt Lathrop of the WMFR said the investigation as to the cause of the fire would be handled by a state fire marshal who works a 10-county district out of Pasco County.

Bazzy recalled that there have been two other fires at the marina, one in May 1996, and one in 1991.