ILWACO — His boat catching fire wasn’t the hot start to the commercial fishing season Jerry Matzen III was hoping for, but the 34-year-old Ilwaco fisherman was glad his boat was saved from the flames to fish another day.

Matzen’s boat was already billowing smoke from the port side when Ilwaco Volunteer Fire Department arrived at about 8 a.m. Friday, May 1 to the Ilwaco Boatyard.

Within minutes the fire crew doused the flames and cut out a charred chunk of wood siding to prevent the fire from spreading further.

The burnt section was about 3 feet long and a foot tall. Fortunately it was above the waterline and in a straight spot before the curve of the stern, making for a less complicated repair with no structural damage, Matzen said.

Matzen bought the boat in early January, his first as the sole owner.

“It’s where my crab money went, to starting my own business.”

Heat gun work likely started fire

The day before the fire, Matzen was repairing the deck and replacing damp wooden boards on his boat. He finished at about 8 p.m., he said.

“We were heat gunning and working on it yesterday. It must have smoldered during the night and caught fire,” he said.

The 40 foot, 25-ton boat, named F/V Ocean Conquest, was built in Canada in 1967 “by an old Finlander,” Matzen said, adding that he had the boat in the yard less than a week.

“We were just getting it ready to go fishing again,” he said.

He plans to use the boat for halibut, tuna and black cod. Matzen wants to have the repairs finished in about a month and be out fishing by the middle of June.

Smoke and chainsaws

Matzen was in a nearby gear shed with fellow fishermen when they were first alerted about the fire.

“We were over in the alley when we heard the sirens go off and we were wondering where the fire was,” said Tim Teall, who responded to the scene with Matzen.

At the same time, Matzen got a call from fisherman Jim Kary alerting him it was Matzen’s boat on fire.

“I just ran over here real quick,” Matzen said. “I saw the fire department spraying my boat and cutting it with a chainsaw.”

The boat was smoldering but the scene wasn’t as bad as Matzen had anticipated.

“I was envisioning the hull and cabin on fire,” he said.

Ilwaco Volunteer Fire Department and Long Beach Police Department responded to the scene. The call lasted about 20 minutes.

Luke Whittaker is a staff writer for Coast River Business Journal and the Chinook Observer. Contact him at 360-642-8181 or

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