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'Worrying about an explosion': Black smoke spreads for kilometers after three boats catch fire in Port Stanley, Ont.

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Thick, billowing black smoke could be seen for dozens of kilometres after three boats caught fire at a Port Stanley, Ont. marina Saturday afternoon.

Just before 1 p.m. a boat docked at the Kanagio Yacht Club caught fire, and with the wind blowing from the south, it quickly spread to the two vessels next to it.

“From what we understand, it may have been an electrical fire in the first boat that started it,” said Cpt. Todd Davies of Central Elgin Fire Rescue (CEFR).

Videos of the spectacular fire quickly spread on social media, and the owners of the boats started to head to the village when they were notified of what happened to their property.

Hubert Van Niekerk lost his boat when fire started on the vessel right next to his in the marina in Port Stanley, Ont. on June 15, 2024. (Brent Lale/CTV News London)“It's insured, and we're thinking about our next project boat, because I don't think this is going to buff out very well,” said Hubert Van Niekerk, trying to make light of the fact his boat is destroyed.

“This was a lot of blood, sweat, tears,” he added, looking at what is left of his boat.

He added the boat meant a lot to him, “It was a cheap enough boat to buy, but then spent the last four years fixing it up and put a whole new top on it and did all my own sewing. The biggest thing lost here is the sewing machine I purchased, which is a really good machine.”

Van Niekerk’s boat was the middle of the three that went up in flames.

There could have been a lot more damage if not for the quick thinking of Tyler Robertson, whose boat was docked just a few down from where the fire started.

Not much was left of three boats which caught fire in the marina in Port Stanley, Ont. on June 15, 2024. (Brent Lale/CTV News London)“The owner of the boat, yelled, ‘Fire’ and I was the closest,” said Robertson. “I grabbed my fire extinguisher and started coming down to this end, but by the time I got here, there's nothing you could do with fire extinguishers. It took us a minute to figure out what else to do.”

Robertson decided to quickly untie two boats which were adjacent to the third one, which started to catch fire.

“I thought, let's create a firebreak,” said Robertson, who untied two other boats and pushed them out away from the dock to contain the fire to the three boats.

“I just pushed them out. If they're in the middle of the river, they're not going to catch on fire. At that point it was close to where the hair is going to burn off my arms and I'm worrying about an explosion,” he said.

An overhead look at Central Elgin Fire Rescue trying to extinguish the boats on fire in Port Stanley, Ont. on June 15, 2024. (Source: Jared Goodwin)

There were no injuries and CEFR says the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office has been contacted, but will not attend.

“They won't be investigating this,” said Davies. “Spills action was notified because of the fuel on board the vessels. The next step will be contacting insurance companies and getting the boats removed from the water.”

Van Niekerk was asked whether he’d be replacing this boat? He replied with quick-wit, “You want one? I’ve got one for sale if you want one?”

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