Hydro Racing

Water Follies 2008 a hot time for 60,000 in attendance

Screaming hydros and an explosive boat fire gave the 43rd annual Water Follies a special finale Sunday for an estimated 60,000 spectators who crowded the banks of the Columbia River this weekend.

A well-behaved crowd and moderate temperatures helped the three-day event attract what may have been its biggest crowd ever, said Kathy Powell, Water Follies executive director.

But at least 50 people ended up going to jail in Benton or Franklin counties on suspicion of consuming too much alcohol and trying to drive while under the influence.

And a boat fire Sunday afternoon marred an otherwise accident-free race weekend.

Law enforcement in both counties and the Washington State Patrol pulled over at least as many intoxicated suspects this year as last year.

State troopers rounded up 36 drivers, while Richland police arrested six. Pasco and Franklin County officers jailed three each, and Kennewick police arrested two.

Sgt. Brian Swartswalter said Kennewick's Water Follies police force assigned to Columbia Park found a mostly well-behaved crowd.

There were 20 citations for alcohol violations, three drug possession arrests and 11 various traffic infractions. Two people involved in a fight were taken to jail. The other violators were cited and released.

Swartswalter said the 19 officers who worked the weekend in the park included officers from Kennewick's department, and from Benton and Walla Walla counties' sheriff's offices.

On the Franklin County side of the river, Pasco police made no arrests related to events at boat races. Capt. Ken Roske said the three DUI arrests in Pasco were not connected to Water Follies.

Roske said there was no trouble even though the crowd was larger than in previous years.

Pasco police put 10 regular officers and reservists on boat race duty each day. They responded to 10 alcohol violations in the park, and there was one citation issued to the operators of the beer garden for overserving a customer, Roske said.

A loud explosion and column of black smoke on the river at 2 p.m. Sunday momentarily upstaged hydro action.

A 32-foot Tolly cabin cruiser caught fire, forcing owners Jeff and Barbara Moulton and their teenage son to dive into the water to escape harm from flames and smoke.

The Kennewick couple had anchored their 1967 cruiser with two other large boats for a special vantage point to watch the final races.

The three boats were tied close together when an explosion erupted from below deck, blowing out windows and the hatch, said James LeDoux, marine deputy from Franklin County.

Flames quickly engulfed the cabin cruiser and began to spread to a 39-foot Sea Ray cabin cruiser owned by Dan and Ann Bowen of Selah who could not untie the line attaching the boats together.

LeDoux said explosive vapors may have accumulated in the cabin or engine compartment while the Moultons were above deck, and something sparked to trigger the blast.

The fire raced across the teak on the deck, quickly engulfing the cabin cruiser.

"It was a nice boat," LeDoux said, noting that all that remains is a fiberglass hull with charred interior.

Damaged to the Bowens' cabin cruiser is beingassessed, LeDoux said.

Neither Moulton nor Bowen could be reached for comment Monday.

Kay Metz, who operated a marina at Clover Island for many years and knows Moulton, said boat explosions can be very dangerous.

Metz said Jeff Moulton was an experienced and "knowledgeable boater" who was commodore of the Clover Island Yacht Club in 2006. Moulton enjoyed taking his boats out for special events, such as the annual Christmas lighted parade.

Metz said the explosion may have come from an accumulation of gas fumes related to the two engines, or more likely from a propane leak from the onboard cook stove.