Crew describes fighting boat fire for hours in the dark

November 2, 2011 

F/V Alaskan Leader

ALASKANLEADERFISHERIES.COM

The 23 crew members of the catcher-processor Alaskan Leader finally finished their six-week fishing journey on the Bering Sea on Friday, but not before enduring the scare of a lifetime when the boat caught fire the night before, 170 miles from Dutch Harbor. The cause is unknown, but the fire spread quickly through the electrical system. Smoke obscured what little light there was. Some of the crew described for KUCB in Unalaska the battle to save the ship and a million pounds of frozen cod.

"No lights, no power, nothing" deckhand Gabriel Lilja, 18. "People were running into each other."

"It got so hot that the lightbulbs melted," said deckhand Jason Clein. "... The paint, everything was burning."

With the fire still burning after more than two hours, Capt. Dennis Black ordered the crew to prepare to abandon ship.

"People were out there in socks and sweatpants. There was laundry all done; we had to dump it all out and give sweatshirts, and sweat pants and fresh socks to everybody. Find shoes and boots. People thought we were going in life rafts," Lilja recalled.

But just before that scenario played out, three other fishing boats arrived alongside the Alaskan Leader and shone lights so the crew could finish fighting the fire and try to get the engine started. A Coast Guard cutter and tugboats eventually arrived, and the Leader was in Dutch Harbor by late Friday afternoon.

Read and hear more at KMXT/KCUB.

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