One person killed, two in hospital after explosion and fire at North Saanich Marina

One person is dead and two were taken to hospital following an explosion and fire at North Saanich Marina on Sunday afternoon.

RCMP Cpl. Chris Manseau confirmed the death Sunday evening.

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One boat and a fuel dock were destroyed. Earlier information from RCMP indicating that three boats were affected was inaccurate.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but does not appear suspicious, he said. “It’s pretty early to determine anything,” Manseau said Sunday.

RCMP investigators were at the marina Monday trying to determine the next steps in the investigation. Manseau said specialized units are expected to be called in, such as the RCMP’s explosive disposal unit and underwater recovery team, which will look for evidence in the water.

Fire crews from North Saanich also remained on scene overnight into Monday morning. Deputy fire chief Aaron Kary said 19 firefighters from North Saanich Fire Department responded to the blaze, along with fire crews from Sidney and Central Saanich, paramedics, RCMP officers and the Coast Guard.

The fire originated in the boat, which had just fuelled up and was set to depart the marina, said Brook Castelsky, chief operating officer of Oak Bay Marine Group, which owns the North Saanich marina, as well as marinas in Oak Bay, Pedder Bay and Ladysmith.

“Unfortunately, this tragic event resulted in one fatality, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family,” he said.

Castelsky thanked first responders for their efforts in containing the fire.

He confirmed that one of the two people taken to hospital was a young woman working in the gas bar. She has since been released from hospital and is “completely safe,” he said.

Thick, dark smoke could be seen billowing into the sky Sunday evening from as far away as Cobble Hill, while the fire continued to smoulder for several hours.

Witnesses said they watched one boat catch fire around 4 p.m. and spread to the fuel dock, which burned until all that was left was the charred frame.

Findlay and Katherine Gibbons were sitting outside on their property that looks onto the marina when they heard a “huge bang” and saw white smoke rising from a boat at the marina’s fuel dock around 4 p.m.

“Somebody flew up in the air [off the boat] and landed in the water,” Findlay Gibbons said. “There was a lot of screaming and somebody dove in for him.”

The couple saw a rubber dinghy arrive on the scene to help rescue the person, and people performed CPR “for the longest time.”

“Shortly thereafter flames appeared on the boat and we ran and phoned 911,” he said.

They watched flames spread from the boat to the marina’s fuel dock and could hear cries for help. One man ran across the Gibbons’ property, dove into the water and swam to the dinghy to help.

“His father came and said he was a paramedic and he was going over to assist in the resuscitation,” Findlay Gibbons said.

Engulfed in flames, the boat drifted from the dock and continued to burn in the bay “right down to the water,” said George Mackie, whose property also looks on to the marina’s fuel dock. “It looked like a goner.”

He watched the flames approach a second boat moored on next to the fuel dock, but said it appeared to be spared. Also close to the dock are a row of boat houses. Flames were “licking up” beside the nearest house, Mackie said.

He watched fire crews work to extinguish the fuel bar fire, but little could be salvaged.

“It’s just a burnt-out hulk. It’s totally black,” he said.

Based on the time stamps for photos he took, the explosion happened at 3:47 or 3:48 p.m., he said.

An orange boom has been set up around what remains of the fuel dock.

The boat is expected to be raised from the water in the next few days.

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