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Boaters swim to safety after craft catches fire in Allegheny River

PTRLOBOATFIRE1071216
Stephanie Strasburg
River Rescue sprays water on a boat fire that left 5 people with injuries on the Allegheny River by downtown on Monday, July 11, 2016. 'I call it 'Inferno on the Allegheny,'' said George Mobley, 47, of the Mexican War Streets, who was fishing from the North Shore. 'The captain abandoned ship.'
PTRLOBOATFIRE2071216
Stephanie Strasburg
River Rescue sprays water on a boat fire that left 5 people with injuries on the Allegheny River by downtown on Monday, July 11, 2016. 'I call it 'Inferno on the Allegheny,'' said George Mobley, seated in the photo, 47, of the Mexican War Streets, who was fishing from the North Shore. 'The captain abandoned ship.'

A small pleasure boat caught fire on the Allegheny River Monday evening near the Fort Duquesne Bridge, causing five adults, a toddler and a dog to jump into the water to escape the flames.

It was at least the third boat fire in Pittsburgh since last fall, which firefighters union President Ralph Sicuro said “definitely shows the need for us to get a fireboat.”

The adults swam to shore with the child and the dog. The adults and child were taken to UPMC Mercy, Uptown, with first- and second-degree burns, according to Public Safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler. None of the injuries were life-threatening, she said.

The boat caught fire just after 6 p.m., generating thick black smoke. Eyewitnesses said it had been headed upriver.

“I call it ‘Inferno on the Allegheny,’ ” said George Mobley, 47, of the Mexican War Streets, who was fishing from the North Shore when the fire broke out.

A city river rescue craft pulled up alongside the burning boat and doused it with water from a single hose, Toler said. City firefighters parked on the Fort Duquesne Bridge and sprayed foam onto the watercraft. It was not clear if all occupants of the boat were wearing life jackets, Toler said.

The flames reduced the vessel to charred rubble. Officials are investigating what sparked the fire. Toler said the city is exploring whether to buy a $400,000 fireboat. The vessel would be capable of pumping more gallons of water per minute than the fire hose used on the river rescue boat and could be used to put out fires along the shore and on the water.

Firefighters have battled several boat fires in recent months.

In June, a boat caught fire and sank in the Monongahela River at a marina on the South Side. No injuries were reported.

In November, a man was forced to don a life vest, jump in the Ohio River and swim to shore after his boat caught fire just downstream from the West End Bridge. He was treated for minor smoke inhalation.

Pittsburgh’s Equipment Leasing Authority, which oversees purchases of large equipment, gave preliminary approval for the purchase of a fireboat at its April meeting. The city last had a fireboat in 1973.

Tribune-Review photographer Stephanie Strasburg contributed. Tony Raap is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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