GILFORD — Buddy Thomas had just pulled out of his boat house at 13 Roberts Road with three of his children and some of their friends when he noticed his boat's engine compartment smoking.
Calling for help, the group, which already was wearing life jackets, was about to jump in the water when a nearby Marine Patrol officer heard the cries for help and brought his boat to the rescue.
Fire ultimately would nearly engulf the boat, but no one was injured in the incident. It occurred several hundred yards away from the Glendale Docks, which are town's public docks and the home of the local New Hampshire Marine Patrol Bureau.
"I had just pulled out of the boat house, and the engine just started smoking," Buddy Thomas said. "I don't know what happened, I was just concerned with getting the kids off the boat safely."
The smoke and fire engulfed the 42-foot Outerlimits power boat just before 5 p.m. Saturday evening. The boat was fully involved by the time Gilford firefighters arrived.
Gilford Fire Chief Mike Mooney said they used the department's fire boat, but its pump failed and Mooney called in fire boats from Laconia and Alton as firefighters worked to put the fire out from shore. The boat was close enough to the shore fore fire truck hoses to be effective, Mooney said.
Mooney added that they had to combat the flames with foam because the boat was fiberglass, and the blaze couldn't be put out by water.
Laconia's fire boat responded, but the fire had been extinguished by the time they arrived. The boat was heavily damaged, with the engine area in the rear destroyed. Charred fiberglass also marred the front end of the boat and the passenger compartment. The boat was long, yellow with colored stripes and had an open passenger compartment.
Mooney said the boat is worth about $500,000.
Thomas said what happened should serve to remind people how important it is to wear life jackets. If they had to jump in the water and hadn't already been wearing them, someone may have gotten hurt, he said.
Thomas also said that while they were calling for help and after they had been rescued by Marine Patrol, he saw other boaters come within 100 feet of his boat while it was on fire.
"People are worried about the speed limits on the lake, but what we need is boater attention and education," Thomas said.
Thomas said he was taking three of his sons and some of their friends out on the water. Two other adults also were on the boat.
His teenage son, Jake Thomas, said that he was glad everyone got off the boat safely.
"Smoke was everywhere," added Jake's friend, Mart Foley, of Salem, Mass.
Marine Patrol Officer David Gunter said he was heading toward the docks when he noticed the smoking boat and heard their cries for help.
Gunter said he knew Thomas had recently replaced the muffler system on the boat but was unsure if that contributed to fire.
Mooney said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.