This Boat Fire at Lake Mead National Recreation Area Had an Unusual Twist

National Park Service rangers and Boulder City firefighters extinguish a boat fire in the Boulder Beach campground. NPS photos.

Easter weekend can be a busy time at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, so a call that came into the park dispatch center at 10:39 a.m. on Friday, April 22 provided some unwelcome news: There was a boat on fire at Boulder Beach, but the problem wasn't at a launch ramp or marina, where such situations might be expected.

This boat was reported to be afire on dry land, in the crowded Boulder Beach campground.

NPS rangers and Boulder City firefighters responded and began evacuating campers from the area and fighting the fire. The blaze, which also burned a nearby tent and surrounding brush, was contained by 11:02 a.m.

According to National Park Service investigators, the boat’s operator was filling the trailered vessel's fuel tank from a gas container when he unintentionally hit the ignition switch. It's believed this caused a spark that ignited fuel vapors.

The boat operator and family were visiting the park from Las Vegas. No one was injured.

Park spokesman Anthony Munoz noted that a buildup of fuel vapors in boats during fueling is a common occurance, especially in warmer temperatures. In August 2009, five people from Las Vegas were injured when fuel vapors ignited and their boat exploded at the Callville Bay Marina fuel dock.

The busy boating season is already underway in warm-weather parks such as Lake Mead, and will be here soon all across the country. The approach of summer is also a time when some first-time boaters are headed for the water, so we'll pass along a suggestion from Munoz to keep the following tips from the U.S. Coast Guard in mind while fueling watercraft:

• Close all hatches and other openings before fueling.
• Extinguish all cigarettes and other open flames.
• Turn off engines, all electrical equipment, radios, stoves and other appliances.
• Remove all passengers from the boat.
• Keep the fill nozzle in contact with the tank and wipe up any spilled fuel. Spilled fuel can turn into vapors.
• Open all ports, hatches and doors to ventilate after fueling.
• Run the blower on the boat for at least four minutes after fueling is completed.
• Check the bilges for fuel vapors before starting the engine.
• Make sure there is no odor of gasoline anywhere in the boat before starting the engine.