Volunteer firefighter rushes in to save boats during massive fire at Lake Powell

Robert Wilkes, who was working at the Wahweap Marina, rushed over when he heard there was a fire at one of the docked boats.
Published: Jun. 3, 2023 at 8:34 PM MST|Updated: Jun. 3, 2023 at 9:38 PM MST
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LAKE POWELL, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- As flames erupted from a dock full of boats at Lake Powell, a nearby business owner and volunteer firefighter knew time was of the essence. “I don’t turn a cheek to something like that; I charge in,” said Robert Wilkes, the owner of Skylite Houseboat Management.

Wilkes, who was working at the Wahweap Marina, rushed over when he heard there was a fire at one of the docked boats. “By the time I got there, the kitchen was on fire, and it sounded like a jet engine. That’s usually what you get when propane is gassing off like that on fire,” he explained.

As the fire was spreading fast, with his training, Wilkes felt like he had to do something to save not only his boats but everyone else’s at the marina. “I’m a volunteer firefighter with Big Water; I’ve been with them for the past three years. I did a couple of years in the Marine Corps, and firefighting is my stress reliever,” he said.

Through the intense smoke and heat, Wilkes untied and freed boats to get them out of the fire’s path. “I was trying to create a gap; otherwise, it would have burned the whole dock. Fiberglass burns very hot; there’s no really any stopping it. I was trying to contain it,” said Wilkes.

A massive fire burned several houseboats at the Lake Powell marina and grew for about an hour and a half.

All others at the lake could do was stand by and watch. “There wasn’t a lot of houseboat owners there to move their boats, and it just seemed like one by one boats were catching fire to the east,” said Heather Rankin, who was at the lake.

Eventually, more help arrived to assist Wilkes. “I got a lot of the boats off the dock. I was trying to get as many as we could,” he said. Ultimately, about a dozen boats, including one of Wilkes’s, were damaged. However, he says if he didn’t act as fast as he did, things might have turned out worse for the marina.

So far, there are no reports of injuries, and most operations are open this weekend at the marina. The National Parks Service is currently investigating the fire.

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