NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The fire aboard the Spirit of Norfolk has been extinguished, Coast Guard officials say.
Crews confirm to 10 On Your Side that the fire was fully extinguished around 10 a.m. on Saturday. That is nearly four days after the cruise yacht caught fire this past Tuesday afternoon with more than 100 passengers aboard at the time, most of them local elementary school students.
The Coast Guard is working on the final stages of a towing plan to remove the boat from Naval Station Norfolk.
The fire started in the Spirit’s engine room, but the cause is still under investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board. The vessel is considered a loss.
Norfolk Fire and Rescue confirmed the fire was reported shortly after noon on Tuesday. The City of Norfolk said the Coast Guard called 911 at 12:10 p.m. about a fire on the Spirit of Norfolk, which was in the water near Pier 3 at Naval Station Norfolk.
The passengers were all moved from the Spirit of Norfolk to the Victory Rover, which returned them to the dock at Town Point Park. The Spirit of Norfolk was towed to Pier 4 with its two crew members on board, the Navy said. Those crew members disembarked upon arrival.
There were two groups of students on board: a group of preschoolers from Virginia Beach, and 5th graders from Newport News, a Spirit of Norfolk staff member confirmed to WAVY.
It is a field trip elementary school student, Grace Telfare told 10 On Your Side she will never forget.
“It was stinky, and a bunch of smoke, and then we had to go to the other part of the boat, and then get on another boat, which was also scary because I thought I was going to fall.”
Parent chaperone Jason Sleeth was playing foosball on deck when he smelled something burning. He looked over the side and saw flames. He said the crew did a great job of herding the groups and getting them all into lifejackets.
“I figured it would be a little chaotic, but they were very brave and listened well. There were a few tears, but overall they did a really good,” he said.
Navy officials said early Wednesday that the fire was slowly burning itself out, but smoke intensified later Wednesday morning, and at the last report Wednesday night it was still smoldering.
In an update, Wednesday afternoon, the Coast Guard said the Spirit is considered too unstable for crews to enter, but exterior firefighting measures would continue. Salvage contractors were developing a plan to safely enter the ship despite the instability.
Crews had been working for several days to dewater the vessel.
The Coast Guard is being assisted in the operation by Naval Station Norfolk, City Cruises and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management/Department of Environmental Quality, as well as the City of Norfolk, Port of Virginia and NOAA.
The Coast Guard defended the response to the firefighting effort, saying the main concern was keeping fire crews safe. Captain Jennifer Stockwell, Deputy Commander of Sector Virginia, emphasized that ship fires are challenging because crews have to balance putting out the flames with making sure the vessel doesn’t capsize.
“Vessel fires are exceptionally complex, so we are balancing the need to put water on the fire while keeping the vessel afloat,” said Stockwell.
A spokesperson for the owners of the Spirit of Norfolk said the search is on for a replacement vessel for upcoming scheduled events such as weddings.