3 September 2007 Fire at Sea
**Location: **In the Drake Passage between South America and Antarctica
During the early morning hours of September 4 we were awakened by the sound of the fire alarm and ship’s whistle. After grabbing our safety gear we headed to our muster station. (A muster station is a pre-determined location for a group to meet in case of emergency.) Seeing smoke in the hallways and smelling burning plastic, we knew that this was not a drill. Because we had gone through safety training the previous day everyone knew what to do and no one panicked. We knew to grab our immersion suits and life preservers and head for the conference room on the third deck.
As we waited in the conference room we overheard radio communications between crew members. It was soon clear to us that the fire was in one of the lab areas (the biology lab), and it was not looking good. We later learned that the smoke was so bad the firefighters had to crawl on their hands and knees in total darkness to locate the fire and put it out. It is believed that the fire started in a small refrigerator in the lab. Fuel for the fire came in the form of 3 liters of acetone stored in another refrigerator. The seas were a bit rough that night, and perhaps the bottles of acetone fell over and spilled in the refrigerator ultimately causing the fire. Whatever the cause, it was a very hot fire – the glass bottles that held the acetone completely melted and countertops and ceiling tiles in the room also melted. The fire spread through the adjacent hallway and beyond – a fine layer of soot was deposited throughout the whole lab area.
After a tense hour or so, the fire was put out and we were allowed to return to our rooms. In spite of the smoke and very hot fire no one was injured. Thanks to the efforts of our well-trained crew, the fire was contained before any more damage was done to the ship. It was determined that in spite of the intense heat of the fire and the war-zone appearance of the bio lab that there was no structural damage to the ship and that the cruise would continue.
We were allowed back in the labs Wednesday, and we spent the day cleaning soot from every surface imaginable. Our computer network may have sustained some damage, but we won’t know for sure until everything is taken apart, cleaned, and put back together. We haven’t been able to send or receive email yet due to a problem unrelated to the fire. Hopefully we’ll be able to send and receive email on the ship once the bugs (and the soot!) are worked out.
Keith cleaning his equipment.
Mike cleaning binders and manuals.
Soot found its way into a network server.*
In spite of the fire everyone is in good spirits, and we all worked together today in the clean up process. We have had to make a change in our itinerary. The oxygen tanks used by the firefighters are now empty, so we are detouring to Palmer Station to refill the tanks and replace lab equipment that was destroyed in the fire. Palmer Station is a U.S. research facility that is located on an island in the Antarctic Peninsula region. This detour will cost us a few days of work time, but plans are underway to compress activities so that all the science can be accomplished in the allotted time.
We’ve been in open ocean for several days now – nothing on the horizon for days except more water! It will be nice to see ice and land at Palmer Station, and we should see more wildlife there than in the open sea. The Drake Passage hasn’t lived up to its billing as the roughest water on Earth – it’s been pretty calm most of the time. A few rough spots, but overall a pleasant ride.
Marine mammal and seabird observations for September 5: (As spotted by our marine mammal and seabird expert Brent.)
Giant petrel Antarctic petrel Blue petrel Cape petrel Adelie penguins
The petrels are commonly spotted "cruising” off the back of the ship looking for food that may have been stirred up by our wake. Brent can spot and identify everything in these waters. Most of us have yet to see our first penguin but Brent has already seen several species. We are all anxious for our first penguin or seal spotting – hopefully that will happen at Palmer Station tomorrow.