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Boat owners 'very concerned' day after fire causes more than $1M in damage at Muskegon marina

Authorities said the fire started with one boat, and that they have confirmed the owner was working on the boat the day before the fire.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — In the days and hours after a fire impacted dozens of boats at a Muskegon marina, causing more than a million dollars in damage, people who house their boats there are still searching for answers.

Authorities have confirmed that they know more about what may have caused the fire at the Safe Harbor Great Lakes Marina and that the ATF is now assisting in the investigation.

"I was like, man, this is crazy!" said John Davis, who was nearby when they fire broke out just after 11:15 a.m. Monday morning. 

Davis was at a nearby boat launch where he likes to fish, and was shocked to see so many firetrucks and commotion at the marina building across the bay. 

"They no sooner opened up the front doors, and all this smoke come out, and you could smell the fiberglass," he said. "The smoke was a combination of black smoke and yellow, and the yellow smoke was the fiberglass burning up."

Some sections of the building were cut open during the fire suppression efforts in order to ventilate the smoke. The fire was later extinguished, but all 150 of the boats stored inside of the marina are thought to have sustained some sort of damage from the fire, smoke or the heat. 

"I was just in absolute shock," said Patty Sabin, whose boat is housed inside the building that burned. "It was so surreal, and I thought this can't be happening."

Sabin and her husband have housed their boats at the Safe Harbor Great Lakes Marina over the last nine years. They had bought the one inside during the fire less than a year ago. 

"I was at home yesterday and I had a thing coming up on my phone from WZZM saying that the marina was on fire," Sabin said. "I laughed and kind of said to myself, wouldn't that be funny if that was our building?"

"We went online and watched your live coverage, and sure enough, there was our building with smoke billowing out of it," she added.

Sabin said she hasn't yet been able to go in and see the extent of the damage, and that they are still waiting for any information. 

"We are very concerned," she said. "We haven't heard from anybody from the marina."

"We have nothing confirmed," she added, "so we don't know what we'll do this summer if in fact the boat is not usable."

Boat-owner Tim Benson didn't know about the fire until Tuesday morning when someone from the marina reached out to him. 

"They called me," he said. "They said there had been a fire, and that my boat was damaged."

Benson said his one-of-a-kind 1988 PowerPlay XLT 185 boat has been housed at the marina for 15 years. 

"That boat was manufactured in Holland," said Benson, "and they didn't make a whole lot of them."

"So far as I know, that was the last 185 like that left," he added. 

Benson said the marina didn't have a whole lot of information, but advised him to contact his insurance company.

"These people, here at the marina, they're top-notch," he said. "They really go the extra mile."

Authorities said the fire started with one, 39-foot boat in the building, and that they have made contact with its owner. They confirmed he was working on the boat on Sunday, and say the investigation will focus on what he was doing on his boat the day before the fire.

"If they lost anything, man, I really feel bad for them," said John Davis. 

Authorities said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is usually involved in any fires that cause a high amount of money in damage, and can always be helpful with bringing in people who specialize in investigating fires. 

"ATF is uniquely qualified to support our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners in fire-related investigations through our ATF Certified Fire Investigators (CFIs) Special Agents. They receive highly specialized training rapidly deploying to fire scenes to identify, collect and analyze potential arson-related evidence, and act as the lead criminal investigator for field operations. CFIs conduct research to identify current and potential future trends based on major fire-related cases," said a spokesperson with ATF. 

"CFIs utilize a variety of tools such as digital photography, 3D imaging, electrical circuit tracers and testers, as well as ordinary hand tools for sampling fire debris for ignitable liquid analysis. Conducting systematic scene examinations and applying the scientific method, CFIs can accurately determine where and how a fire started. Their specialized training and real-world investigative experiences make them the only experts authorized to issue fire origin and cause determinations. Our CFIs work closely with members of the U.S. Fire Administration, the National Fire Protection Association, insurance companies, and other professional fire-related investigation organizations in the private sector on fire-related investigations," she added. 

"It could have been a lot worse, and I do understand that," said Patty Sabin. "Nobody was hurt, which is great."

"And with 150 boats, that makes a lot of people that are concerned, so we understand that," she added, "but we do hope that we get answers today."

13 On Your Side has reached out to the Safe Harbor Great Lakes Marina several times for comment but has not yet heard back as of this publication. 

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