Large marina fire closes Overseas Highway in Marathon

Fire engulfs house, wooden lobster traps

By Peter Burke - Managing Editor, Ian Margol - Reporter

MARATHON, Fla. - A large marina fire in Marathon early Monday morning forced deputies to close a stretch of the Overseas Highway in both directions for several hours.

Monroe County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Becky Herrin said the fire at Vaca Key Marina at mile marker 47.5 started about 2:30 a.m.

Florida Keys firefighters were called to a boat fire, but when they arrived, they found that the flames had engulfed a house and about an acre-sized lot filled with wooden lobster traps.

One home was evacuated while firefighters battled the flames.

"When we first got here, we had a lot of difficulty just getting back to the fire because we're going through, basically, little pathways to try to get back to find out what was burning, how it was burning and the extent of it," Marathon Fire Rescue Chief John Johnson said.

Johnson said the lobster traps made for the perfect kindling for the fire to spread.

"Obviously, the lobster traps are made of thin wood, some of the crab traps are made out of plastic, which still burns, gives off toxic fumes, but they're surrounded with air, concrete in the bottom, so it's a perfect-feeding fire," he said. 

The fire was contained about 5:30 a.m.

Johnson said nobody was injured.

Monroe County spokeswoman Cammy Clark said U.S. Highway 1 was closed so that firefighters could connect fire hoses to water supplies on the other side of the highway.

Johnson said four boats that belong to commercial fishermen and one home were destroyed in the fire. He said firefighters were able to save about 75 percent of the lobster traps. 

"The traps were stacked 18 to 20 feet high," Monroe County Fire Rescue Deputy Fire Marshal Craig Marston said. "The (commercial) lobster fishermen were getting them ready to put in the water the first of August for the new season."

Teresa Diaz told Local 10 News that her husband's boat was among those that were destroyed in the fire.

"We don't have anything. He doesn't have anything," she said. 

Diaz said everything she and her husband have worked for for 30 years is now gone.

"He's had this business for 36 years so, we live off of this," she said. "We were trying to settle down and basically try to pay everything at home, stay without any bills, because pretty soon, in a couple of years, he will retire, but unfortunately I think we're either going to need to start from scratch again or wait to see what's going to happen."

Clark said six propane-powered forklifts, several trap shacks, tools and about 20,000 lobster traps were also destroyed in the fire.

The total damage estimate is about $1 million. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

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