RENO — Firefighters protected Lake Tahoe’s famously clear water as they quickly snuffed out flames shooting from a docked tourist cruise boat, preventing any fuel or oil leaks, the U.S. Coast Guard said Wednesday.
The 144-foot Tahoe Queen had 800 gallons of diesel fuel and 100 gallons of hydraulic oil on board when the fire broke out about 8 a.m. Tuesday. None made it into the mountain lake’s azure waters, said Lt. Jake Aulner, chief of the Coast Guard’s domestic vessel inspection branch for its San Francisco sector.
The popular paddle wheeler can hold up to 300 passengers but it’s been out of service since winter due to the lake’s low water level and was undergoing repairs at a dock in the Zephyr Cove Marina on the lake’s southern end about 60 miles south of Reno.
Two contractors who were part of a crew doing welding and painting on the boat suffered minor injuries. Both were treated at the scene — one for smoke inhalation and one for a sprained back after he jumped from the boat’s roof to escape the smoke and flames.
Coast Guard inspectors conducting an investigation into the fire’s cause were still monitoring the boat Wednesday.
But an inspection of the vessel’s structural integrity concluded “it is structurally sound,” Aulner said in an interview.
“It poses no further danger to the public,” he said.
A fire district boat and citizens on their boats encircled the paddle wheeler with floating booms shortly after the fire began to capture any debris.
The lake’s water quality is strictly regulated by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency created in 1969 by Congress that has members from California and Nevada because the lake lies in both states.
Most of the fire damage was limited to the second deck and the pilot house on the open third deck where the captain operates the boat, Aulner said. He attributed the result to the “tremendous response” by crews from the Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District who quickly extinguished flames before they spread to the fuel tanks below.
Auler declined comment on preliminary findings of the investigation into the fire’s cause but confirmed welders were working aboard when the blaze began.
“The vessel was undergoing some major structural repairs and they were welding some steel plates. There also were painting contractors on board,” he said.
The Tahoe Queen’s sister ship, the M.S. Dixie, was moored next to the burning boat on Tuesday but suffered no damage and resumed operations hauling tourists across the lake on Wednesday.