Hydro Racing

Boat goes up in flames at Follies (w/video, photos)

One person suffered minor injuries when a fire erupted on a pleasure boat Sunday afternoon east of the blue bridge in the midst of the hydroplane races.

People were seen jumping into the Columbia River as flames engulfed the boat and black smoke filled the blue sky.

"All we heard was a big pop and a scream," said Rufino Zamora of Pasco, who saw the boat catch fire about 2 p.m.

"It was very scary," said his daughter Minerva. "We were sitting and watching the boats and then all this chaos." The Zamoras, like many other spectators sitting on the Sacagawea Heritage Trail pathway near the blue bridge, ran west away from the fire for safety.

Three boats were tied together with 11 people onboard for a party at the east end of the race course during Heat 3A of the annual Columbia Cup hydroplane races.

One boat was destroyed, a second moderately damaged and a third escaped harm, said James LeDoux, a deputy with the Franklin County Sheriff's Office.

The injured man was taken to Kennewick General Hospital and released a short time later, said hospital officials.

The rest of the passengers on the boats were rescued from the water by other boaters in the area.

LeDoux and his partner Rick Scott, a reserve sheriff's deputy, were patrolling the river when the boat caught fire. "We were about 300-400 feet from the scene," Scott said.

Also, Coast Guard boats from the Clover Island station arrived to help keep the flames from spreading.

"The Coast Guard were a big help," LeDoux said.

The teams first doused the fire on the second boat where flames were beginning to spread to prevent a possible gas tank explosion, Scott said.

The first boat was already heavily damaged, said Scott who set up a water pump to try to put out the fire.

It took about 10 minutes to knock down the flames on the second boat, he said. Later, the damaged boat was towed to Clover Island.

Officials suspect a problem with a barbecue grill may have sparked the blaze.