Digest>Archives> Nov/Dec 2012

Saved By Seconds as Explosion Rips Through Lighthouse

By Timothy Harrison

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Lighthouse Digest archival photo of the Bloody ...

In May of 1960, two young Coast Guard keepers at Maryland’s Bloody Point Bar Lighthouse barely escaped with their lives as an explosion ripped through the 1882 tower located in the Upper Chesapeake Bay.

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Bloody Point Lighthouse as it appears today. ...

What was a routine day for the young men, ages 19 and 20, turned deadly when an electrical short started a fire in the lighthouse. The men quickly responded and grabbed fire extinguishers to fight the fire, which spread quicker than they expected. As smoke quickly filled the interior of the structure, the men fought the fire until the smoke drove them to the outside deck for air.

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Undated photo of Bloody Point Bar Lighthouse in ...

With fresh air in their lungs, they went back in to continue fighting the fire, a process they repeated several times as the fire spread to the kitchen and living room. However, they soon realized that the flames would soon reach the storage room, which contained a 500-gallon fuel tank, and they decided it was imperative that they abandon the lighthouse.

One alternative was to jump in the cold water, but would they survive by the time help arrived? So, the only logical method of escape was with the station’s boat, but they had to act fast. They used a 20-foot oar to operate the manual clutch on the boat hoist. As the frightened men descended through the flames, the boat stopped just short of the water and could not float free.

One of the men was quoted, “Neither of us had a knife to cut the block and tackle. We were stuck there, an inch from escape.” Then, as if the hand of God reached out, a wave lifted the boat and freed it from the davits.

Suddenly, as the lighthouse boat departed from the tower, the fuel tank blew with such a tremendous blast that it ripped apart the canopy.

Eventually a Coast Guard Cutter and two other vessels arrived on the scene and reportedly fought the blazing inferno for six hours. By the time it was all over, the fire had gutted the entire interior and destroyed the lens. Later the Coast Guard removed debris from the interior and removed the covered walkway, leaving only a shell of a station. Bloody Point Bar Lighthouse was never staffed again.

In 2008 the government sold the lighthouse at auction for $100,000. The new owner said he plans to eventually restore the lighthouse.

This story appeared in the Nov/Dec 2012 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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