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Firefighters from 4 Ohio FDs battle cargo ship blaze

350,000 gallons of water used as The Cuyahoga burned in Ashtabula Harbor

By Warren Dillaway
Star Beacon

ASHTABULA, Ohio — Large clouds of black smoke could be seen for miles as The Cuyahoga burned in Ashtabula Harbor on Friday afternoon.

Area residents jammed viewing areas taking photos and shooting video with cell phones at Point Park and the old CSX building on East 6th Street near the bridge over the railyard.

The fire was called in to the Ashtabula Fire Department around 1:20 p.m., said Lt. Steve Chase of the Ashtabula Fire Department. He said the 630-foot ship was billowing black smoke when firefighters arrived on the scene.

“They had a cargo hold catch on fire,” Chase said.

A conveyer-belt system was used to unload the ship and it caught fire as well.

More than 20 firefighters from Ashtabula, Ashtabula Township, Saybrook Township and Geneva battled the blaze.

“The ship was undergoing some repairs,” Chase said.

He said there were 24 workers on board and 15 crew members were preparing the vessel to be moved to Erie for more repair work.

Chase said nobody was injured. The conveyor belt continued to burn well into the evening, he said.

By 6 p.m., 350,000 gallons of water had been used to battle the blaze. He said a salvage company is expected to help remove the water and figure out how to dispose of the material.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. The U.S. Coast Guard is also investigating the incident.

Harlan Rinto, who worked in the Ashtabula Harbor for 35 years, marveled at the fire from the back of the Ashtabula Maritime and Surface Transportation Museum. He said he was a fourth-generation worker on ships in Ashtabula Harbor.

He said he had never seen a fire like the one Friday.

Many others felt the same way as people tried to navigate in and out of a clogged parking lot at Point Park. Cars parked in the museum parking lot and up and down Walnut Boulevard.

The parking lot at the former CSX Railroad offices quickly filled with people trying to get the best view of the fire.

The Cuyahoga was docked in the western portion of the property northeast of the Ashtabula Lift Bridge. Firefighters arriving on the scene made their way through the property to get close enough to the ship to fight the blaze.

An Ashtabula ladder truck set up on the western side of the ship to fight the blaze and fire engines from numerous area companies responded to the fire.

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