YARMOUTH, N.S. – Yarmouth County resident Arnold Porter stood on the Lobster Rock Wharf amid howling winds and bitter cold for many hours, watching as firefighters tried to save his boat, the Fundy Commander, after a fire broke out shortly before 10 p.m. on Jan. 4.
Porter had owned the fish dragger just shy of two years.
During that time he had never taken it out on a fishing trip, but it wasn’t for lack of effort in getting it to Yarmouth in the first place.
First built in Newfoundland for a fisherman from Digby, the vessel was later sold overseas, ending up in Holland instead.
Then someone from Newfoundland bought it during a foreclosure sale and was going to have it transported there.
“But his wife passed away. He was 67 years old and just kind of threw his hands in the air and was done with fishing so I bought it from him,” Porter said.
“So we went to Holland, put it on a container ship and brought it over,” he explained, saying the trip took around 11 days. “I was going to use it for crab fishing. Then I turned around and bought another licence that came with another boat so I used the other boat.”
So instead he’d been fixing up the Fundy Commander for sale.
“I had some guys from Labrador that were going to look at it for shrimp dragging and I had another fellow from Meteghan way that was looking at it for silver haking. There was another fellow from Newfoundland who was going to look at it for crabbing, so there was interest in buying it,” he said.
But around 10 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 4, Porter got a telephone call telling him the boat was on fire at the Lobster Rock Wharf in Yarmouth.
A BITTER NIGHT
Amid trying, miserable conditions – both from the weather and due to the location of the fire – firefighters responded to the fire as a winter storm blew through the area. By the following morning the vessel was starting to sink alongside the wharf.
As firefighters had arrived at the wharf on Thursday night – and for hours afterwards – a steady stream of smoke could be seen billowing from the boat. Aside from the smoke, also greeting firefighters were strong winds associated with a winter storm that had been affecting the province since that afternoon.
Waves churned violently at the wharf as firefighters went about their duties in very cold, windy and wet conditions.
The Environment Canada station at the Yarmouth Airport reported wind gusts ranging from 71 km/h to 83 km/h while firefighters were at the wharf. They remained on scene all night and were still combating the fire as daylight broke Friday morning, Jan. 5.
But it was a lost cause.
The Yarmouth Fire Department had been first to respond to the fire and received support and assistance from the Port Maitland, Wedgeport and Lake Vaughn fire departments.
Aside from the weather, other factors made fighting the fire challenging.
Yarmouth Fire Department platoon chief Peter Winship said firefighters were initially on board the vessel after arriving on the scene.
“The fire quickly changed inside and I made the call to pull everyone off the boat," he said.
The blaze was in the engine room and difficult to access, he said, adding that there’s always a danger of explosion with boat fires.
“You don’t know what might be on board: propane, diesel… there’s several different things you have to be concerned with," he said.
And, of course, anytime a fire breaks out on a fishing vessel tied to a wharf, there is concern for nearby vessels. Other vessels that had been near the Fundy Commander were moved to protect them.
Porter guessed the fire must have been electrical. Earlier in the day – as he secured the lines of the boat, given the forecast from Environment Canada of hurricane-force winds – Porter said he had shut off the vessel’s generators and had shifted the vessel onto shore power.
Photographs he was later shown by two people who were at the wharf when the fire was detected showed that flames had come up through the deck.
“Where it was would have been where the transformer would have been in the engine room, where your cord comes in from shore power,” he said. “So I’m guessing that’s what it was because everything else was turned off. All my batteries were turned off, all the 24-volt panels and everything was turned off.”
Porter had praise for the firefighters – the majority of whom are volunteers – who fought the fire in gruelling conditions. He said it even made him nervous to watch them at work because a fire on a fishing vessel can be unpredictable and it’s not the type of blaze firefighters would be accustomed to fighting.
Asked if he had insurance on the vessel, Porter said he did, although, he said, “I won’t get back what I put into it, but I’ll have enough to cover what I owe on it.”
Despite the loss, he kept things in perspective.
“I’d been working on it for a year now, getting it ready, but it is what it is,” he said. “The main thing that can be replaced and nobody got hurt.”
(WITH FILES FROM CARLA ALLEN)