Sunday evening was just beginning to draw in when a thud caused our boat to lurch to port-side. I thought we had been hit by a passing boat so I went outside to check. There was no one there, but I heard screaming. It was indistinct at first and I thought perhaps children were playing over exuberantly in the park - it was then that I heard the call every boater dreads: FIRE!
We immediately ran towards the shouts and found a family of eight stranded on their cruiser as smoke billowed out of their cabin. We could not reach the boat, but we sprang into action as the family jumped into the water. Not all of them were able to swim but they were wearing life jackets and, with Gary and Brenda, we managed to pull them from the water and onto the pontoons. Rob and Gary seemed to pluck the children out one by one, strong as they are, with relative ease, but I struggled hauling out a girl as her clothing weighed her down. I asked her to work with me, and on the count of three she pushed up whilst I pulled, and with the help of Brenda we dragged her free of the water and onto the relative safety of the pontoon. Whilst this was going on another boater called the fire brigade and opened the gates to give the emergency services access. Everyone worked naturally together.
It was clear by now that there was not much we could do for the boat. Two people in a rib arrived with a fire extinguisher, but there was a problem and it did not work and all they could do was push the boat further towards the far bank and away from us. They were forced to retreat when the flames and heat became too much. The fire spread so swiftly, eating through the cabin as though it was made of cardboard. One minute the cabin was visible, the next it was gone. Just like that a boat was gutted. Gary and Rob stood by with boat poles to keep the burning boat at a distance for fear that it could drift back. Thankfully, the breeze took it towards the bank and away from other boats and people. As the emergency services arrived Brenda and I dashed to our boats to retrieve towels to dry and keep the family warm. We had pulled them out of the water - five children, one baby, and two adults - and they were unharmed. We could not bring them to our boats to keep them safe because our boats were still in the danger zone and they would have had to pass their burning boat. They retreated onto firm ground and to the shelter of their car in the car park where the paramedics attended to them. Brenda stayed with them and I returned to the pontoons to see what more could be done – but there was nothing left for us to do. The emergency services had it all in hand, and pumped river water onto the flames. It seemed to take an age for the flames to extinguish, and by the time they were done there was very little boat left - It did not matter though; a family survived, and that is enough.
Local media coverage:
Advice for petrol powered boats: Boat Safety Scheme