DESTROYED AND DAMAGED: The remains of Des Clarke’s houseboat, above left, and Ron Skinner’s damaged cruiser, above, after a fire took hold of the vessels on the Clarence River early Saturday.
DESTROYED AND DAMAGED: The remains of Des Clarke’s houseboat, above left, and Ron Skinner’s damaged cruiser, above, after a fire took hold of the vessels on the Clarence River early Saturday.

Boat fires suspicious

A USUAL Friday night turned nasty for Grafton’s Des Clarke after his prized houseboat was destroyed by a ferocious blaze.

The former Albion Hotel publican went out for dinner, watched the footy and went to bed. But it all changed suddenly after a knock on his door about 3.15 Saturday morning.

“The next-door neighbour woke us up to say our boat was on fire,” he said.

Running in his pyjamas to where his houseboat was moored on the Clarence River, Mr Clarke was met with the scene of flames engulfing not only his boat but also Ron Skinner’s cruiser – which had been let off its mooring and had run up alongside Mr Clarke’s vessel.

“My boat was on the river out from the bank, with Ron’s alongside it, and they were both alight,” he said. “It was burning like hell.”

Mr Clarke said although it took just a few minutes for the fire brigade to arrive, there was nothing left to salvage of his 45ft long, 25ft wide Parker houseboat, which he bought for $155,000 five years ago.

“It was burnt right to the water line,” he said. “There was quite a bit of damage to Ron’s too.”

Mr Clarke’s vessel had two bedrooms, two showers, a toilet, full-sized kitchen, a barbecue and all new carpet and flooring.

“It was a one-off,” he said. “It’s a bit devastating. You might get insurance but you never get back what you put into it.”

Mr Clarke believed the fire was maliciously lit.

“All the batteries were turned off; there was no electricity flowing anywhere,” he said. “Fibreglass doesn’t just catch alight. An accelerant must have been used.

“But why? We haven’t had any grievances with anyone.”

Grafton Police Detective Senior Constable Grahame Burke said police were treating the fire as suspicious.

“Investigations are ongoing,” Detective Burke said. “We are asking people who live on the river to check to see whether they are missing any watercraft.”

Detective Burke appealed to anyone who may have information to phone Grafton Police on 6642 0222 or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.



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