Sailboat burns off Dermo Island in Lost Channel

Becky Vargo • Sep 19, 2017 at 9:26 PM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — Power was out in a portion of Grand Haven Township on Tuesday night after a boat hit an overhead power line and then caught on fire.

The incident happened at about 8:15 p.m. on Lost Channel, off the Grand River near where Robbins Road and 152nd Avenue meet.

According to police, the boater was able to get off his burning boat, but he suffered burns to his face, arms and hands.

Sgt. Matt Wildfong of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office said Michael Saunders, 28, of Spring Lake, was operating a 26-foot Kodiak Nimble sailboat on the river when the mast hit an overhead power line. That shorted out the boat’s electrical system and caused it to catch on fire.

Saunders was unable to put out the fire, but he was able get off the boat and walk through shallow water in the channel to get to shore, Wildfong said.

A passerby took Saunders to North Ottawa Community Hospital. He was later transferred to Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids.

Firefighters originally responded to the area on a call of a blown transformer. First responders initially thought they had a wildfire on the island, but it turned out to be the burning sailboat.

Access to that part of the river is difficult because of the shallow channel and marshy area.

A marine patrol boat from the Sheriff’s Office eventually made its way to the scene and extinguished the fire at about 10 p.m. Ferrysburg firefighters also responded with their boat.

Grand Haven Township Fire Officer Dave Marshall said firefighters were not sent to the scene because of the difficulty to gain access, the fire was not spreading, the boats were on the way and the possibility of downed power lines in the area.

Power was out along the Lakeshore almost to Lincoln Street. Consumers Energy reported more than 60 customers without power Tuesday night.

Wildfong reported one of the outages involved the traffic light at the intersection of U.S. 31 and Ferris Street.

The incident remains under investigation, Wildfong said late Wednesday.

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