Ten years ago this week, July 11, 2008, is a day I won't forget and I'm sure many others who were around to witness one of the greatest fires the region has seen won't either.
It was a pleasant Friday morning and I was getting ready for an interview — no stress of deadlines and the weekend was coming.
Then came the phone call.
Anna Giles was working in the front office at the time and took the call. She came to the middle room and told me that there was a fire at Washburn & Doughty. I thanked her and continued with my interview. She returned to my desk within two minutes — I can't remember if she received a second call or what — and her words were "I am sorry to interrupt but I really think you should go."
I grabbed my trusty Olympus and drove quickly to East Boothbay. I parked in the lot which is now Ocean Point Marina and saw smoke billowing above the roof of the huge W & D building. I started snapping photos while walking toward the floats, to get a better, closer shot.
That's when I heard a symphony of horns and sirens. Fire trucks were heading down School Street and the smoke kept getting thicker. I thought, "This is going to be bad."
Still shooting (glad my batteries had been charged), Mike Lewis, owner of the lobster boat, Victoria's Secret, spotted me, said hi, and asked me if I wanted to hop aboard so we could see more of the fire on the far side of the building.
That's when I thought it was really going to be extremely bad. Flames shot high in the sky and it was not an easy place for the firefighters to get to.
Some kayakers rolled by taking photos and soon the Coast Guard came with a couple of boats. Mike brought me back to the float after I had shot over 75 photos. The fire had reached the side of the building where hundreds of people had gathered on the shore to watch the spectacle.
Mike and his boat were soon put into service to haul away an unfinished tugboat which had been tied up next to the burning building. Got some great photos of that scene.
Sometime during this confusion, I had called staff photographer John Edwards to come and shoot this fire. He did and he got some great photos of firefighters in action.
While the fire was continuing and was not going to be stopped, I spotted the charred remnants of the Washburn & Doughty sign with fire roaring behind it.
That's the shot, I thought. And it was.
Soon after, gas cylinders were exploding inside the building. That's when I "beat feet" toward the shore.
Before leaving to get the photos downloaded and to begin the long weekend of gathering the troops to write about the fire, the aftermath and more, I climbed the stairs beside the Ocean Point Marina building and got a few shots of the crowd watching the shipyard burn. It reminded me of the day when I was 10 and watching the America get launched from Goudy & Stevens not far from where the fire was burning. There were a lot of witnesses that day, too.
Ten years and many tugboats built later, Washburn & Doughty has risen from the ashes and is thriving. Good things come from bad moments and the East Boothbay shipbuilding community is glad for that.