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‘It’s like a battlefield’: 15 boats burned in Lake Mead Boat Harbor fire

Updated June 10, 2024 - 7:58 am

Henderson resident Rusty Schaeffer stopped by Las Vegas Boat Harbor on Sunday afternoon to check on his boat, docked just a couple of slips away from a line of the boats destroyed or damaged in an early-morning fire at Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

“It’s like a battlefield,” Schaeffer, 51, said of the damage left behind. “There’s like three or four boats that are still underwater that are partially sticking out. And the docks that come out of the side of boats are completely melted and, like, gone.”

The fire that started at 12:30 a.m. Sunday damaged or destroyed approximately 15 boats and caused minor injuries at the harbor, according to the National Park Service. The cause is still under investigation.

One person was hospitalized and another suffered minor injuries in the fire.

Dave Madden said he and his wife were about a half-mile from the harbor when he saw the flames.

“You could hear the explosions,” he said. “There was a lot of smoke and it looked like about 10 boats on fire at one point.”

Raymond Ward, 54, a Californian who has two boats moored at the harbor, said that fortunately no one was seriously hurt, but the loss of boats can have an emotional impact on owners.

“The biggest deal is that a lot of people lost stuff that they worked for, for many, many years,” Ward said. “You know what? We put our heart and soul into these things. We’re working on them every day. We’re rubbing them. We baby them. They’re our babies.”

“It’s sad to see some of these guys just lost their dreams that they’ve been building,” Ward said.

A houseboat owned by a man he knows sank after they bought it “a month and half ago and wanted to turn it into a family hideaway with his kids and stuff and it burnt to the bottom of the ground,” Ward said.

It was windy on the lake early Sunday morning and gasoline leaking from the sunken boats rose to the surface, Ward said. He said he believes that the wind was out of control and fanned the flames on the water.

Ward praised the owners of the marina for helping to move and save boats that might have caught fire.

Travis Reif, 54, another Henderson resident and boat owner, said he was “pretty shocked, pretty surprised that would happen. We wouldn’t leave our boats here if we thought that could happen, right? We had our boat sitting here last night and luckily it was far enough away to be unharmed. So, very fortunate.”

Boat owner Jeff Sammons, 55, said he rushed over to the marina at 2 a.m. from his home in nearby Boulder City to get into his boat and move it in case the wind blew the fire on the water toward his boat, which was four docks away.

“That could have been much worse,” Sammons said. “It’s life, stuff happens, but I’m lucky. But it’s in the end, just property. Nobody was hurt, seriously, no fatalities. Nobody was sleeping in their boat when it happened.”

Henderson resident Derek Jensen, 46, said that he has seen some boaters drain their bilges, or excess accumulated water from the bottom of the boat, with oil mixed in that spreads across the surface of the water in the marina, creating a dangerous, flammable hazard.

“So, you’ve got to be a responsible owner,” Jensen said.

‘Never a welcome thing’

Bruce Nelson, whose family operates Lake Mead Marina next to the harbor, said he helped pull boats out of the way while fire crews worked to extinguish other boats.

“Fire is never a welcome thing,” Nelson said. “We had our own fireboat to pull out the boats that were the closest. It started on one boat and jumped to the others.”

Firefighters started arriving at the fire scene at about 1 a.m., Nelson said.

Fire crews from Las Vegas Boat Harbor, the Las Vegas, Boulder City, Clark County and Henderson fire departments and the Bureau of Land Management had the blaze under control at about 3 a.m. and extinguished it at around 3:30, according to an email sent to boat owners by harbor boating operator Boating Lake Mead.

One boat owner was hospitalized with burn injuries and a firefighter was “checked out and released,” according to the company’s email.

“We are thankful to report that there are no known fatalities and only 2 minor injuries,” the email stated.

“Vessel damage is extensive but was limited from everyone’s quick action,” according to the email.

The I and R docks have been closed, according to the statement.

The marina is open to the public, but park officials issued a partial closure of the harbor’s R and I Docks and warned visitors to be cautious when accessing Hemenway Harbor and open portions of Las Vegas Boat Harbor because of potential safety concerns.

Contact Jeff Burbank at jburbank@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0382. Follow him @JeffBurbank2 on X. Contact Marvin Clemons at mclemons@reviewjournal.com.

Review-Journal visual journalist Rachel Aston and social media manager Taylor Lane contributed to this report.

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