An early Sunday morning tugboat fire at Pacific Tugboat Service in San Diego claimed the life of a 32-year-old employee who had been staying on the vessel, company and city fire officials said.
The fire at the company pier in the city’s Barrio Logan section was reported at 1:15 a.m. by security guards who saw smoke. The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department responded with city harbor police, and put the fire out in about 35 minutes.
A search of the vessel found the victim, Henry Whimbley, on an upper deck, fire officials said. It appeared the fire started on the first deck, where there was a galley, office and crew lounge. The fire spread to the second deck where crew quarters were located, and up to the wheelhouse.
Company officials said Whimbley was a yard mechanic, who stayed on the boat during off-duty hours. In a statement, the company said the tugboat Chief was out of service at the time.
“We believe, as does the San Diego Fire Department, that the fire originated from a lit cigarette that had been placed on the galley table. The fire spread quickly from the galley, and an off-duty employee found aboard was apparently overcome by smoke inhalation,” company officials said.
“Pacific Tugboat Service and the San Diego Fire Department continue to investigate the incident. Additional information will be provided as the investigation progresses. All of us in the Pacific Tugboat Service family are grieving this tragic loss,” the company said.
Whimbley was in the process of applying to the Southern California Inlandboatmen’s Union.
“We consider him family because of the close working relationship the members had with him,” the union said in a statement, expressing “our deepest sympathies to the PTS family and Henry’s family.”
Fire officials estimated damage to the vessel at $300,000.