Shrimp boat ablaze near Gay Fish Co. dock on St. Helena

December 8, 2011 

For close to 40 years, Peter Pope has known little else besides the salty smell of St. Helena Sound and the life of a Lowcountry shrimper.

He fears that may all have changed Thursday morning.

Firefighters from the Lady’s Island-St. Helena Fire District were called at about 9 a.m. to the dock at Gay Fish Co. off Sea Island Parkway where Pope’s 59-foot shrimp boat, the Four Girls, was ablaze.

Pope said he was doing some welding and other repairs on the boat when he saw smoke and soon noticed that the hull was on fire.

“I tried to put it out with a fire extinguisher, but it just started spreading,” Pope said.

Other shrimpers at the dock attempted to help extinguish the blaze, but it was too late, said Lee Levesque, district spokesman.

“When we got here, the front half of the boat was fully involved with fire,” Levesque said. “Our personnel ... got on the boat, and in the process of putting out the fire, they realized that the fire had made its way below the hull. They literally were standing on top of the fire.”

Firefighters climbed off the vessel and continued fighting the fire from the dock. They were still dousing the smoldering hull hours after the flames had been extinguished.

Pope watched with others as smoke rose from the charred remnants of the boat he had made his living on for more than 15 years.

“I’m all right now,” Pope said, as a blackened plank from his boat bobbed in the water nearby. “I don’t know what’s going to happen later, but right now, I’m OK.”

Though the local shrimp industry has been hurt by rising fuel prices and an influx of cheaper imported shrimp, Pope said he can’t imagine another life for himself and his family. But he fears he might have to.

“I might buy another boat, or I might just go do something else,” Pope said, with a shrug. “It’s hard though. The economy was bad, but I was making a living. (Shrimping) is what I know how to do. It’s what I like.”

No injuries were reported, and no other boats or nearby buildings were damaged, according to authorities.

Fire scene investigators have yet to determine the blaze’s cause, Levesque said.

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.

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