Powell River resident Bill Sirota was one of the first responders to the scene of a boat fire in Sabine Channel between Texada and Lasqueti islands on Tuesday afternoon, May 3.
Sirota was aboard a 12-passenger aluminum transport boat owned by his employer, Comox's Tim McGrady, when the two men heard a distress call from a 33-metre fishing vessel at approximately 1:30 pm.
By the time the men located the boat, its two passengers had already abandoned ship into a skiff and the vessel was engulfed in flames.
"The biggest thing you noticed approaching the boat was the flames. It was black, acrid smoke," said Sirota. "The boat was giving off a lot of flames and smoke and we both remarked that we could feel it, even from a way's away."
Another passing vessel picked up the passengers and they were retrieved by a coast guard lifeboat. Sirota said they would have gotten to the boat sooner, but were having trouble communicating with the vessel due to language barriers. The coordinates they were given by the passengers in distress were incorrect, he said.
The origin of the burning vessel and identities of those aboard are unknown at this time. Its two passengers were taken to Comox by a Powell River coast guard rescue craft.
Sirota said the vessel was a commercial fishing boat but had alterations on its front half that appeared to be similar to a pleasure boat. According to Dan Bate, Canadian Coast Guard communications officer, it is unlikely the boat was being used for pleasure.
"The two recovered passengers were wearing floater suits and that tells me it was likely a commercial vessel," said Bate. "Most recreational boaters don't have floater suits onboard their vessel."
Bate said the vessel burned down to the waterline and a quantity of diesel and two propane tanks were on board. A second coast guard lifeboat remained on the scene until the fire went out, he said.
Coast guard recovered the skiff. The cause of the fire is unknown.
Video footage courtesy of Bill Sirota