Improper use of a space heater has been determined as the cause of a boat fire that cost a Bethel Island man his life earlier this month.
Fire Marshal Steve Aubert of the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District released the results of his investigation into the Feb. 7 boat fire that claimed the life of 56-year-old Douglas Hiles.
“While the weather can be cold during this time of year, portable space heaters have very specific manufacturer's specifications for use,” said Aubert. “These typically call for clearance requirements and safety protocols to safely operate one of these devices.”
The fire at the Bethel Island Marina on the 400 block of Riverview Place in Bethel Island was reported shortly before 10 p.m. ECCFPD fire crews arrived to find the boat fully engulfed in flames.
Hiles was believed to have been on the boat at the time of the fire, but damage to the vessel from the fire made it impossible for investigators to conduct a thorough search of the vehicle that night, and plans were made to pull the boat from the water the following morning. Search efforts were complicated after the boat sank around 1:30 a.m. Monday, Feb. 8.
According to Aubert, the boat was salvaged Feb. 10 by the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office, and Hiles’ body was recovered. Smoke inhalation was determined to be the cause of death by the Contra Costa County Coroner’s Office.
Brian Oftedal, president of the ECCFPD Fire Board, said the incident serves as a reminder of the importance of smoke detectors.
“If you are living on a houseboat or in a mobile vehicle, please ensure that you have a working smoke detector and carbon monoxide alarm,” Oftedal said. “Please give yourself and your family enough warning to escape a potentially deadly situation.”