A legally-set burn on a downtown beach got out of hand on Saturday, and was put out by the Sitka Fire Department.

A loud explosion and a cloud of black smoke caught the attention of Sitkans in the downtown area a little before 4 in the afternoon. A few minutes earlier, Sitkan Scott Saline had notified the Sitka Fire Department that he intended to burn an old boat hull on the beach in the 400 block of Katlian Street. He received permission, says Fire Chief Dave Miller, but then the unexpected happened.

“We tell ‘em what they can and can’t do and away we went,” Miller said. “A few minutes later, we got numerous 911 calls saying there had been an explosion and black smoke somewhere along the Katlian area.”

Miller says around 15 firefighters responded. They arrived to find the engine-less hull of a boat engulfed in flames.  

“He’d set it on fire with some greasy, oily rags and stuff, contaminated with diesel fuel and gasoline,” said Miller. “Put it in the boat and lit it on fire. When it lit on fire it went whoof! I think because the boat was a long tube, it made the noise like that, it was really loud and echoed all over. It scared people a bit, they thought there was an explosion.”

Although Saline sought a burn permit from the department, Miller says that the fiberglass in the hull created black smoke. While citizens can legally burn wood and paper products, fires that cause black smoke will be put out by the department.