CREW ESCAPES BURNING VESSEL
January 02, 2001 11:00 pm

The U.S. Coast Guard credited the skipper of the fishing vessel Charabi with possibly saving his crew after fire erupted in the engine room Tuesday night a mile from the Port of Brookings Harbor.

But the skipper, Paul Davis, credited the many drills he and his two crewmembers, Leon Jones and Ralph Dairy, had practiced over and over.

Leon and Ralph were great. They knew exactly what to do, Davis said late Tuesday after being treated for smoke inhalation at the U.S. Coast Guard Chetco River Station.

While he talked, his fishing vessel, the only one he owned, continued to burn about a mile or so off the coast of Brookings.

I dont know what happened, Davis said. It must have been an electrical fire or something.

The men were motoring back to the port in the 40-foot vessel at 6:10 p.m. They had just finished a full day of checking their crab gear between here and Crescent City. The boat contained about 2,000 pounds of crab when fire broke out, Davis said.

First we noticed one of the engine began slowing down. Then Ralph saw smoke coming from the engine room, Davis said.

Davis quickly shut the door to the engine room. The automatic fire extinguishing system was activated, and for a minute or so he thought the fire was out.

He was wrong.

Davis fought his way through the thick smoke in the wheelhouse to send a distress call over the radio.

The engine is on fire and we have to get off the boat, he could be heard saying on the radio.

Later, Davis said, I had no idea if they heard me or if anyone was coming.

The Coast Guard did, and they immediately dispatched a lifeboat.

Meanwhile, the three crew members wiggled into their survival suits and jumped into an inflatable life raft.

But they werent safe yet.

The men were unable to float free of the burning boat.

The strong currents and the wind kept pushing against it, Davis said. We couldnt get away from it.

About that time, the Coast Guard lifeboat arrived and the three men were plucked from the life raft.

He acted quickly and got his crew off the boat, Coast Guardsman Kelly Hoyle said later about Davis.

The three crewmembers were treated by paramedics at the Coast Guard station and released.

At 10 p.m., Davis boat was still floating at sea, still on fire. The Coast Guard pumped it full of foam and its still burning, he said.

Coast Guardmen were floating near the boat, watching it burn. The fire will probably consume the entire vessel, Hoyle said.

I dont know what Im going to do. Ive fished all my life, Davis said. I guess Ill have to find myself another boat.