Explosions rock boatyard


A spectacular fire Friday destroyed a boatyard that turned out commercial fishing boats, tugs, barges and ferries on the Maine coast.

The 50,000-square-foot building at Washburn Doughty Associates was rocked by a series of explosions as flames ripped through the facility. One firefighter was treated at the scene for heat exhaustion.

Gov. John Baldacci put the property damage at $30 million.

The boat builder employs nearly 100 workers and serves as a year-round economic linchpin in an area that's heavily dependent on summer tourism.

"Hopefully, they'll rebuild," said Ed Shaw, who worked at the shipyard off and on before his retirement. "The industry needs them." His wife, Betty, said the village had lost a treasured piece of history and a major employer.

The blaze sent a plume of black smoke skyward, and about 200 homes and businesses near the boatyard were evacuated as fire crews and ambulances from two dozen towns in four counties converged on the scene. Specialists in hazardous materials were also called in.

Two tugboats were under construction in the fire-damaged building. But a vessel that was in the water outside the boatyard was saved.

Investigators from the state fire marshal's office concluded that the blaze started near one of the tugboats under construction in the building, but they haven't yet determined the cause, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

The boatyard's operations manager, Lee Smith, said the company would conduct an internal investigation and also cooperate with fire officials to determine the cause.

The intense fire started around 9:30 a.m., and black smoke could be seen from the bridge linking Wiscasset and Edgecomb, about 10 miles away.

"I've never seen smoke like that," said Kristina Ford, who lives near the boatyard. The fire, she said, was "just obviously unstoppable. It was just so huge."

Ron Riml, a retired police officer, said the flames shot 30 feet above the roof as he watched from the top floor of his house several hundred yards away. The scene was "almost like the Hindenburg as the frame and everything went up in flames," he said.

"It went quickly, and once it went quickly there were a lot of explosions," Riml said.

Gov. John Baldacci was briefed on the fire by the Maine Emergency Management Agency. He pledged to provide whatever state support is needed to help the company and the community recover.

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