Fire destroys boat factory: 'You just look at all the stuff you've worked on collapse in front of your eyes'

FERNDALE, Wash. -- The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is now part of the investigation into a late-night fire that destroyed the Northwest Marine Industries boat factory in Whatcom County.

"My co-worker and I were in the back and we both heard this bang," Caleb Mhyre said Friday.

Mhyre was working right next door when the blaze at the factory broke out Thursday night.

"Lots of black smoke coming out the back. Eventually, the fire started to spread and it got bigger and bigger," he said.

Only after sunrise could the true damage be seen.

Fiberglass boats, gone. Equipment, scorched. And water pooled in offices.

The boat maker's owners worry they lost everything.

Mark Wright's family owns the business.

"You just look at all the stuff you've worked on collapse in front of your eyes, it's a little tough to accept," Wright said.

The two-alarm blaze brought in extra resources from Bellingham and nearby Whatcom County fire districts.

Firefighters say the blaze was too intense for them to save the boat factory.

And sitting next door sits a propane gas company that, if ignited, could have made a scary situation even worse.

"If that fire had found that underground propane line, and if he hadn't shut that valve off, it would have gone straight into the tank over there and lit up Ferndale," Mhyre said.

The building's owner now has to find a structural engineer to determine if the warehouse is safe to enter. Only then can investigators start their job of finding a cause for the massive blaze.

And more than 20 workers' jobs at the boat factory are now in limbo.

"The biggest fear that all of us have, moving forward is, that we are not going to be able to continue to produce boats the people love, and we’re not going to be able to continue to give people that work for us the life they want to have by having a profession they enjoy," Wright said.

The owner is thankful that no one was hurt.

"The heartbreak is just a little bit too much to take today," Wright said, "but we’re all alive and look each other in the eye and know we love each other."