Casino shuttle boat caught fire in Florida, dozens safely evacuated

Courtesy Pasco Sheriff’s Office(PORT RICHEY, Fla.) — A casino shuttle boat caught fire Sunday afternoon in Port Richey, Florida, forcing dozens to evacuate — some into the frigid canal on the area’s coldest day of the year, authorities said.

There were about 50 people aboard the vessel, which ferries people to a casino boat about three miles offshore in the Port Richey canal, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. Everyone is accounted for, the sheriff’s office said, but 15 passengers were taken to a local hospital.

The injuries sustained were minor — smoke inhalation and chest tightening — and not considered life-threatening, according to the Pasco County Fire Department.

The massive fire broke out on the coldest day of the year in Port Richey, which is near Tampa. The afternoon temperatures dropped as low as 43 degrees, and the waters were about 59 degrees — cold enough, if in the water for a sustained period of time, to cause hypothermia, authorities said.

The boat was still ablaze hours after it caught fire, the fire department said. It will likely burn to the water line.

When the fire sparked, the captain of the boat beached it about 100 feet from shore. The waters weren’t deep, a spokesman for the fire department said, allowing rescuers to reach victims quickly and passengers to swim to shore.

The shuttle boat takes people some three miles out to the casino boat in international waters, officials said.

A spokesman for the fire department said everyone was “lucky” the fire happened so close to shore.

The cause of the fire is unknown and, after it extinguishes, will be investigated.

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