Authorities say equipment defect to blame for boat fire

By WEEK Producer

July 4, 2012 Updated Jul 4, 2012 at 6:48 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- New details are being released following a boat fire that happened Tuesday night on the Illinois River in Peoria.

Fond Du Lac Park District Police said the boat's flame arrestor that sits on top of the carburetor had a defect in it that caused the fire.

Witnesses said they heard a loud explosion and saw a portion of the top of the vessel go flying around 30 feet in the air.

The boat's two occupants and owners, Johnny and Tammy Copeland, were able to avoid injury by jumping into the river once the fire started.

A nearby watercraft brought them to safety.

"A boat is primarily fiberglass with a large fuel tank underneath and when they catch on fire, they go up literally within five to 10 minutes," said Michael Johnson, Fond Du Lac Park District Marine Unit Chief. "So the key to remember is that if your boat catches on fire, hopefully you have your life jacket on and get off the boat as quickly as you can."

Chief Johnson said neither of the Copeland's were wearing a life jacket and they did not have insurance on the boat. He said authorities will be patrolling the waters on the holiday to keep people safe.

"We will be doing a lot of compliance checks, making sure you have the proper safety equipment on the boat," he said. "We recommend you wear your life preserver or PFD at all times. Remember if you have children on the boat under the age of 13, they have to have it on regardless."

Chief Johnson has noticed people taking alcohol out onto the river. But authorities will be patrolling and will arrest anyone who is driving their boat under the influence.

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