Man with 3rd-degree burns airlifted after Appomattox River explosion

Published: Apr. 1, 2015 at 11:02 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 12, 2015 at 5:02 AM EDT
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PRINCE GEORGE, VA (WWBT) - Prince George Fire crews rushed to douse a boat engulfed in flames Wednesday evening, after an explosion sent smoke billowing above the Appomattox River.

The fire scene halted all operations at the Appomattox Boat Harbor just after 5 p.m., at an area close to Temple Avenue and the Southpark Mall.

Medics airlifted one person to VCU Medical Center, who suffered third degree burns on his arms, as well as first and second degree burns on his face.

Witnesses around the marina saw flames covering the man's body, moments before he jumped into the river.

"When I saw him, the first thing that went through my mind is that I didn't think he could ever get out of there alive," said Prince George resident Milton Emory in an interview Wednesday. "I heard him hollering... I never saw that much fire that quickly."

According to fire officials, the owner of the 32-foot boat and a potential buyer experienced engine trouble on the river earlier in the afternoon.

The owner brought the boat back to the marina, and an explosion happened after he started to repair the engine.

"When I turned around I was just in shock that it was burning so badly," Emory said. "And I was just talking to the [owner]. They just put 300 gallons of fuel in the boat... And they were taking it to Maryland tomorrow."

Prince George Fire authorities allowed the gasoline to burn through the evening hours, with the fire extinguished around 8 p.m.

"Burning the fuel eliminates the hazard it poses," said Brad Owens of Prince George Fire and EMS in an interview Wednesday. "We will be monitoring the situation, but will just allow the fuel to burn to get rid of it."

The cause of the fire was not immediately clear. The shell of the boat remained in its dock early Thursday, with parts of surrounding boats partially charred or warped from the heat of the explosion.

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