Man Injured After Boats Catch Fire in Fort Lauderdale

Victim airlifted to Ryder Trauma Center after explosion, fire on Hendricks Isle

A man was hospitalized in critical condition after two boats caught on fire and were destroyed in Fort Lauderdale Wednesday morning, officials said.

The fire broke out on a 40-foot boat at 77 Hendricks Isle just after 7:30 a.m., Fort Lauderdale Fire Department spokesman Matt Little said.

According to Little, a man in his 50s who was on the boat with his 4-year-old son and a woman who is about 30 smelled fumes shortly before the boat caught fire. He turned on the bilge pump, which apparently ignited the gas vapors that led to an explosion and fire, Little said.

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The three visitors from New Jersey ran off the boat as the fire quickly spread to a 38-foot sailboat, fully engulfing it in flames, Little said. Two people escaped from the sailboat before it caught fire.

Neighbor JoAnne Jackson said she heard a boom, felt her house shake, ran outside and heard people screaming.

"I couldn't see across the waterway here. The flames were huge," she said. "The sky was blacked out. Literally I could not see.”

Firefighters arrived and quickly fought the flames with foam and water, Little said.

The victim, who was burned, was taken to Broward Health Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries, Little said. He was later airlifted to Ryder Trauma Center, where he is in critical but stable condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Managers of the property said they jumped in to help the injured man, who they identified as Bart Lopresti.

"Bart the boat owner came out, and he was burning. He had burns on his body, and his hair and his face," Reggie Fecteau said.

"His skin was peeling off, his hands, his hair was burned off, it was just horrible," Natalie Tasse said. "And then he wanted to just in the swimming pool and we told him not to do that because of the chlorine."

Fecteau said he told Lopresti to take a cold shower.

Lopresti's girlfriend, who was with him and their son on the boat, was too distraught to talk to reporters later in the day.

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Both the 40-foot motor yacht, called the "Chico Malo," and the sailboat were destroyed. They were both valued in the $100,000 range, according to Little.

A third boat, a 35-foot Maxum motor yacht, received superficial damage from the flames, Little said.

There is no indication of foul play, Little said.

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