Fire damages 3 boats, 1 injured
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (WSVN) -- The owner of a 45-foot power boat is suffering from severe burns after his vessel erupted in flames Wednesday morning.
"I heard a boom, and I felt the house shake," said Joanne Jackson, who called 911.
"I saw a huge, black cloud," said a male witness.
"We all heard yelling," said witness Leonard Guydone. "We didn't know if there were inhabitants on the boat."
There were three people on board: New Jersey resident Bart Lopresti, his fiancee and 4-year-old son.
Fort Lauderdale fire officials said Lopresti's 40-foot yacht, docked along Hendricks Isle Drive just north of Las Olas Boulevard, burst into flames around 7:25 a.m., just seconds after Lopresti had gone below deck to check on a gasoline odor. He turned on the bilge pump, which firefighters believe ignited the explosion.
"I couldn't see across the waterway," said Jackson. "The flames were huge. The sky was blacked out. Literally, I couldn't see."
Fire Rescue boats arrived on scene to find the boat engulfed in flames with the fire spreading to a sailboat.
Firefighters extinguished the flames with foam and water. "The crews did a good job of keeping the fire from spreading to the other boats that were close by," said Fort Lauderdale Fire Division Chief Timothy Heiser.
Rescue Crews airlifted Lopresti to Jackson Memorial Hospital. He is expected to recover.
Friends and relatives of Lopresti said he suffered first, second and third-degree burns on his body. A man who said he has been a friend of the victim for years spoke about his injuries. "I told him, 'Jump in the shower. Make sure you've got cold water in your body,'" said Reggie Fecteau. "He's a good friend of ours. We've known him for years."
The victim's 4-year-old son and wife were nearby when the explosion and fire erupted. "The little kid was sleeping next to where it happened," said Heiser. Luckily, they were not injured, but the wife was too shaken to speak.
Both his boat and another boat are a complete losses. A third boat suffered about $50,000 in damage. Chip Williams shot home video of the flames as firefighters responded from the water. "I heard an explosion, saw a huge black cloud, took some video on my iPad," he said.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
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