4 injured in boat explosion

Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Smoke from the boat fire at Kings River Marina was visible from northern Shell Knob on Saturday, when at about 1 p.m., Central Crossing Fire Protection District was dispatched to a fully engulfed boat with four people injured following an explosion. Contributed photo

Fire Chief: Marina staff, bystanders respond smartly

Four people were injured Saturday when a boat exploded at Kings River Marina on Table Rock Lake in Shell Knob.

According to a report from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, a 1995 Cuddy Cabin boat was fueled and exploded when Norman Tudor, 63, of Verona, turned the ignition key.

A 1995 Cuddy Cabin boat was a total loss Saturday after an explosion in the engine compartment caused a large fire in the docks at Kings River Marina. Contributed photo

Felicia Tudor, 62, of Verona, and Virginia Zielinski, 55, of Aurora, both suffered moderate injuries. Norman Tudor and Kenneth Zielinski, 59, of Aurora, suffered minor injuries. All four were transported to Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Felicia Tudor by helicopter after suffering third-degree burns.

Rusty Rickard, Central Crossing Fire Protection District chief, said the call came in at about 1 p.m., and the District responded with several personnel, two engines, a tanker, the fire boat and several EMS first responders.

“When we arrived, there was heavy smoke and a large amount of fire,” Rickard said. “We were met by a large crowd and led to the patients, and at that point, it’s a judgment call.”

A member of the Central Crossing Fire Protection District searches for a hot spot in the dock float that was still producing light smoke following an explosion and boat fire Saturday at Kings River Marina. Contributed photo

Rickard said the wind blows four directions through that area of Kings River Marina. Two directions would have likely caused the fire to spread more, and the other two directions worked in the Fire District’s favor.

This time, the wind was blowing from behind the Marina and over the lake, keeping the flames away from the docks.

“We focus on patient care first,” Rickard said. “We were confident the fire was not going anywhere it hadn’t already been, so we put our priority on the patients. If that fire had burned down to the water line, so be it — we protect life first. Once they were assessed and stabilized, we started suppressing the fire.

“It was a quick knock down. We used the fire boat and were attacking it from land. For as crazy and hectic as those few minutes were when we got there, it did not turn out to be too wild of an event. We were there for about an hour. The boat was towed away and we helped clean up and rope off the area.”

Rickard said one patient was airlifted to Springfield, and two others were transported by ambulance. The fourth person injured refused treatment. Another individual passing by on the dock sustained minor injuries and refused treatment.

“We didn’t get to talk to the patients much, but bystanders reported two of them ended up in the water, and the other two got out back onto the dock,” Rickard said.

Rickard said the cause is undetermined. Witnesses said the group was having trouble starting the boat but decided to give it one more try, and that’s when the explosion erupted from the engine compartment.

Damage to the Marina included part of the dock, fuel pumps and hoses, walkways and the foam that floats the dock.

“Their maintenance company came and got those pumps secured and working again within 24 hours,” Rickard said.

Rickard said boat fires this large, with billowing black smoke visible from the Fire District’s building in Shell Knob, are not common, but similar incidents have been on the rise.

“We have them from time to time,” he said. “For whatever reason, this summer seems to be the exception. There have been a lot of boat fires, not necessarily on Table Rock Lake, but at the lakes around us. We get called out for minor fires, but we seldom have one of this magnitude.”

Rickard said the Marina staff and onlookers also did a great job from the start.

“The staff and bystanders did great,” Rickard said. “Any time there is a big incident, people get worked up. I don’t know how many fire extinguishers they used trying to put it out and control it, they used boats to evacuate the restaurant, and they administered first aid. They also followed protocols and shut off the fuel pumps.”

Rickard said with fires this large, people tend to expect the worst possible outcomes.

“People know what they see on TV and think a gas tank or pump will explode,” he said. “I’m much more worried about the toxic smoke than an explosion. When there’s a fire, the gas tank heats up and the gas evaporates, and it’s those vented fumes that fuel a fire. It’s rare for a tank to explode.”

Rickard said assistance with the incident came from across the Barry County area.

“[Eagle Rock-Golden-Mano Fire Department] responded and helped us set up the landing zone for the helicopter,” Rickard said. “The Barry County Sheriff’s Office, Highway Patrol, Water Patrol, Conservation and a park ranger all assisted, and of course Barry County 911 took and dispatched the call.”

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