SOUTHWEST HARBOR — A Tuesday morning fire at The Hinckley Company boat shop on the Shore Road caused little damage but could have become a significant blaze if firefighters hadn’t responded so quickly.
“It had a lot of potential to become a major problem,” said Chief Jack Martel of the Southwest Harbor Fire Department. “Fortunately, we got it under control.”
Firefighters from Southwest Harbor, Tremont and Mount Desert all responded after receiving a report shortly after 5 a.m. that there were flames near two large propane tanks outside one of the buildings on the property.
“There was fire, but we couldn’t see where it was coming from,” Martel said, describing the scene when firefighters arrived.
After extinguishing the fire, firefighters found that a pipe carrying propane from the tanks into the building had broken, allowing propane gas to escape into the atmosphere. The propane had ignited and flames were shooting out of the pipe. Luckily, the wind was blowing in the right direction.
“The wind was blowing the flames away from the tanks,” Martel said.
Firefighters were able to clear the scene about 90 minutes after arriving.
At first, Martel had no idea what caused the propane to ignite. Returning to the scene later in the day, he learned the system of pipes carrying propane included a “vaporizer” to warm the propane during cold weather. Apparently the broken pipe dropped down far enough that the gas pilot light in the vaporizer ignited the escaping propane, Martel said.
Damage was limited to the pipes. The building and three nearby boats were not harmed.
Martel said he didn’t know who reported the fire or what caused the pipe to break.
Southwest Harbor police assisted firefighters with traffic control.