Fire burned Friday inside the remains of an overturned cargo ship being dismantled on the Georgia coast.
Sue Inman of the Altamaha Riverkeeper conservation group told The Associated Press she could see flames shooting from the open ends and the top of the Golden Ray on Friday afternoon as she watched from a boat about 300 yards away near St. Simons Island.
Thick black smoke was filling the sky, she said, and loud several loud popping sounds could be heard from the shipwreck.
“It is ablaze. You can actually hear explosions,” Inman said. “It’s just so hot they can’t even get close to the boat.”
No injuries had been reported and all demolition crew members near the shipwreck were safely evacuated, said Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Himes, a spokesman for the multiagency command in charge of the demolition.
Himes said flames flared up inside the wreck Friday afternoon as workers used cutting torches along the hull to create a path for the 400 feet (122 meters) of anchor chain being used to tear the ship apart with brute force.
“It is considerable at this time. It picked up very quickly,” Himes said of the blaze. “The good news is, because we planned for fires and we planned for the need to evacuate in the case of those fires, all of our crews are accounted for.”
Himes said the fire was likely sparked by one of the cutting torches, even though crews were pumping sea water onto the ship as a fire suppression measure. He didn’t know what was fueling the blaze but said it’s possibly residual fuel still aboard the ship as well as cars that remain inside its cargo decks.
The wreck began smoldering around noon Friday, and the fire broke out around 1 p.m., according to Tyler Jones, public information officer at Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Resources Division.
According to Jones, the crane that’s being used to dismantle and remove the wreck has a fire suppression system installed. Tug boats from the Port of Brunswick with water cannons are also responding.
“We knew all along there was a threat of something like this happening,” Jones told WABE.
He said the priority all along has been protecting the safety of the people working on the wreck, and protecting the environment.
The multiagency command in charge of the wreck removal has air monitors set up.
Jones said they are still in operation, but he did not yet know the air quality impacts from the fire. He said the plume of black smoke looked like it stretched for several miles.
“It smells like you threw something on a camp fire you weren’t supposed to,” Inman told WABE. “It’s really bad.”
She said the smoke was mostly blowing toward Jekyll Island.
The Golden Ray had roughly 4,200 vehicles in its cargo decks when it capsized off St. Simons Island, about 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Savannah, on Sept. 8, 2019. Crews have worked since November to carve the ship into eight giant chunks, then carry each section away by barge.
In April, they reached the halfway mark after separating the ship’s engine section. The vessel measured 656 feet (199 meters) long when it overturned