In a step toward recovery from the devastating February fire that destroyed a large section of Dozier’s Port Urbanna Marina, Delta Marine Construction has completed its comprehensive salvage effort to clean up and stabilize Urbanna Creek.
“Our task was to clean it up and make it better than when we got there,” said Kevin McNamee, site supervisor with Delta Marine. “It was a mess,” he said. The removal and salvage operation included clearing the remains of more than 300 feet of dock, tin roofing and assorted refuse, which had caved in on submerged vessels, as well as the job of recovering the 22 destroyed boats, which needed to be kept as intact as possible. “The job wasn’t complete until we had a clean Urbanna Creek in front of us,” he added. “The cooperation was fantastic,” he said of help and advice from town management, the marina, citizens and other crews involved in the effort. “I think everyone was happy with the result and confident that no debris got outside the containment area.”
In the early morning hours of February 29, a deadly blaze destroyed the former Southside Marine, now known as B Dock at Dozier’s Port Urbanna Marina. Tragically, two people were killed in the fire. The couple was staying on their boat while renovations were being completed on a home the two had purchased in town. They had lived in Urbanna for a little more than a year.
Port Urbanna had 65 boat slips. According to reports, the fire consumed piers, floating docks, a boathouse, storage facility, 22 boats and two cars in the parking lot. Throughout the morning, flames jumped from boat to boat, causing small explosions of fuel tanks and propane cylinders. Two vessels drifted away from the marina after their mooring lines burned through. Fully aflame, the boats eventually ran aground on the shoreline across from the town dock. It took firefighters nearly four hours to bring the blaze under control. The exact cause has not been determined.
Battling the fire and providing medical services and assistance were units from Urbanna, Middlesex County, Gloucester and York County. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter and a Coast Guard vessel monitored the unfolding situation and aided the Virginia State Police. Later, the Coast Guard, Virginia Marine Resources and other agencies worked together to contain oil and other toxic debris in an attempt to limit the environmental impact. The teams erected curtain booms (yellow) and absorbent booms (white) to corral the debris and prevent fuel from drifting into the harbor.
Following a detailed salvage and debris removal plan, dive plan and site safety plan, all approved by the Coast Guard to ensure the safety of the job, Delta Marine got busy with its painstaking mission. The company installed its own containment booms as a backup to the original system. The first priority was to remove the two boats that had drifted into the harbor. Delta Marine then systematically removed the remaining sunken vessels. The process was time-consuming and complex, keeping workers in constant motion. Divers swam below each submerged boat to attach straps with which the craft could be lifted. It was then drained of water and emptied of any remaining fuel. Some of the boats took as long as 45 minutes to raise. One by one, the boats were lifted, transferred by crane to a barge and transported to shore. All the boats came up intact except one. The craft were then loaded by crane onto tractor-trailers and transferred to a holding property a short distance from the marina. The vessels were secured and wrapped to preserve them as much as possible. The process was then repeated in reverse as boats were offloaded and arranged in a layout approximating the dock. Delta Marine essentially recreated the dock on dry land. The slips were numbered and the boats were placed in the same position as they were moored at Dozier’s (in numerical order, bow in or bow out). The layout helped investigators in their examination of the charred remains of the vessels.
Delta Marine did a sweep of each slip to make sure it was clear of collapsed pilings, tin and trash. Finally, using side-scan sonar, the crew inspected the entire bottom of the creek and marina for any wreckage that could cause a hazard. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality also inspected the site.
“The staff at Delta Marine would like to thank the town of Urbanna and the owners of the marina for working with us to help everything go smoothly,” said Brian Fletcher, owner of Delta Marine.
Once the boats were released by inspectors, owners could come view their boats and take away any personal items or sentimental keepsakes that survived the fire — like metal anchors, propellers and railings. McNamee helped one couple recover a set of ceramic candlesticks — one of the small victories in the midst of tragedy. “We met in the pouring rain,” he said. “I dug around in the muck with a fork, and there they were,” he said. “The couple seemed really happy to have them.”