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Local News

Condor Express Catches Fire in Santa Barbara Harbor

Blaze sparked an hour after boat returned from whale-watching expedition; no injuries

[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery. Click here for a Condor Express photo gallery from the aftermath.]

A passenger-less Condor Express vessel caught fire Saturday afternoon while docked at Sea Landing in the Santa Barbara Harbor, potentially causing $100,000 in damages, according to the Santa Barbara Fire Department.

There were no injuries in the fire, which sent thick black smoke towering over the marina.

Emergency dispatchers received multiple calls reporting a fire at 4:10 p.m. on the second deck of the Condor Express boat, which had been docked at the harbor for about an hour after returning with passengers from a whale-watching tour, said fire Battalion Chief Lee Waldron.

A firefighter visiting the area from San Francisco was the first to arrive on the scene. Waldron said the firefighter was riding a bicycle past the boat when he saw the smoke and flames. The firefighter, whose name was not released, began the initial fire attack on the 75-foot vessel by using a wet-standpipe firehose from the dock.

Harbor Patrol and Santa Barbara fire engines soon followed, and the fire was knocked down completely within 10 minutes, he said.

“There was nobody on the boat at the time of the fire,” said Waldron, who added that there were no injuries.

Waldron said the fire was contained to a second deck interior cabin and navigation area, which was “basically completely gutted.” The boat also had extensive smoke and water damage to its first-floor deck.

Condor Express officials later said the cause of the fire was an “electrical” nature, and it was contained to the wheel house.

Waldron said his “ball park” estimate is $100,000 in damage to the vessel, which is owned by the family of the late Capt. Fred Benko. A longtime fixture of the Santa Barbara waterfront and founder of Sea Landing and Condor Cruises, Benko died Thursday at age 73.

Firefighters remained on the scene for 90 minutes to complete an overhaul of the fire area and to assist investigators, who are still working to determine the cause.

“That boat is not going to be going out for a while,” Waldron said. “It (was) a beautiful boat.”

In an email to Noozhawk on Sunday, Condor Cruises representative Bob Perry vowed that the boat would be back in action soon.

“A new wheelhouse will be made from the original blueprints to replace old,” he said. “All new nav instruments will replace the old.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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