'Lights on the Lake': Barge catches fire after Tahoe fireworks spectacular

A barge on Lake Tahoe used to launch fireworks caught fire late Wednesday night.
A barge on Lake Tahoe used to launch fireworks caught fire late Wednesday night.

One of three barges responsible for launching the Fourth of July high-flying pyrotechnic show "Lights on the Lake" caught fire after lights over South Lake Tahoe dimmed Wednesday night.

“This wasn’t an ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ explosion; it was probably a lift charge,” said Eric Guevin, fire marshal of the Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District.

The 20-by-60-foot motorless barge consisting of a heavy timber deck atop steel pontoons launched over 100 explosives from lift charges, or fiberglass gun barrels, that eject the balls of fireworks that explode high above the lake.

The fireworks crews dutifully checked each gun barrel after the show and extinguished one fire that was likely caused by paper or debris that ignited after the launch, Guevin said.

The Fire District responded later to reports of a fire at approximately 11:30 p.m and found the barge ablaze with 20- to 30-foot flames, the fire marshal said.

The Fire District responded with the Marine 24, a high-powered fireboat added to the force last year, which was able to extinguish the barge blaze in six minutes and avoid catastrophic damage or further detrimental impact to the lake.

The fiberglass tubes are held in place by wooden pallet-like racking, which might have contributed to the “very fierce” fire, said Guevin.

“Environmentally, if the barge would have sunk, it would have been a mess,” Guevin said.

The fire was extinguished quickly and firefighters launched a boom, akin to those deployed in an oil spill, to corral debris for quicker cleanup Thursday morning.

Because the barge was motorless, no engine, oil or fuels were present. The deck was charred, Guevin said, from the cleanup site early Thursday, and wood and plastics are the majority of what burned and remain to be cleaned up in the lake.

The new boat, with its 1,050-gallon-per-minute fire hose, “is basically a fire engine that is on the water,” Guevin said.

The only one of its kind on Lake Tahoe, the Marine 24 "knocked the heat right out of it and extinguished" the fire, the fire marshal said, and can be credited for the speedy containment and limited damage

The Marine 24 replaced an older vessel that could pump 800 gallons of water a minute directly from the lake, according to the fire district.

However, the fleet’s older fireboat presented other limitations.

“It was difficult to control and nighttime operations would have been difficult,” Guevin said.

Without a fireboat, Guevin said, “we would have been hamstrung. We wouldn’t have been able to do much at all other than watch it burn.”

Significant damage was done to the fireworks company's electronic components aboard the barge, which were responsible for the show's wireless execution.