The Austin Fire Department contained a two-alarm fire on a boat dock and a boat in the Hyatt marina on Sunday afternoon, at least one of which belongs to Capital Cruises.
AFD Battalion Chief Thayer Smith told KXAN a river cruise boat caught fire around 2 p.m. while docked near the First Avenue Bridge at 280 Barton Springs Road. The flames burned through the boats ropes and moorings, resulting in the boat drifting a quarter mile while still ablaze before docking under the Congress Avenue bridge.
Propane tanks aboard the boat exploded drawing spectators along the lakefront.
“It was like a big firework, a big crack,” said Andy McDell, who was walking his dog at the time. “Then, more smoke and flames.”
“Initially, I thought it was steam from an air conditioning facility,” said Rick Doutel, a hotel guest.
Police did shutdown traffic on the Congress Avenue Bridge for about an hour as a precaution as they had fire trucks battling the blaze on the bridge and below. The bridge re-opened to traffic around 3 p.m.
“We had the bridge covered,” Smith explained, noting that crews never thought the bridge was in real danger from the fire.
No one appeared to be on the boat at the time of the but witnesses said they saw people near the boats, which were not scheduled for cruises on Christmas Day. A stretcher was on the scene, but it appears to be a precautionary measure.
A total of 17 fire department units and 60 personnel responded.
An employee of the cruise company, who asked not to be identified, estimates the river cruise boat cost about $250,000. Also lost in the fire were canoes, paddle boats, kayaks and life vests. The employee said the owner does have insurance.
“It was disorganized. People were parking in front of fire trucks,” McDell added.
Thayer said the cause of the fire remains under investigation and they are interviewing witnesses to try and rule out arson.
Hazardous material teams did take to the lake in motorized rafts to control any potential hydrocarbon spills.