URBANNA — After 18 years of boating at the Dozier Port Urbanna Marina, Lisa Baechler and her family had become part of a close-knit community of boaters. Her husband’s 50th birthday and her son’s high school graduation were celebrated in the clubhouse that sat at the end of the dock.
On Monday afternoon, after a fatal early morning fire tore down the dock and clubhouse, all that remained of either sat charred and collapsed in the marina.
“It’s one of those things that you have to see to believe and you don’t even know if you believe it after you see it. It’s very surreal,” Baechler said.
Two people, whom authorities have not yet identified, were killed in the blaze. Virginia State Police and the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office are investigating the fire as a possible arson, said state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller.
“Due to there being deaths involved, the state police is investigating this as an arson — until it can be proven otherwise,” Geller said in an email.
The remains of the two people who were killed were transported to the state medical examiner’s office in Richmond for positive identification.
Authorities responded to the fire about 4:35 a.m., Geller said. Flames spread quickly, consuming the boathouse and a storage facility. Twenty-one boats and two cars in the marina’s parking lot also were destroyed.
Baechler, of Midlothian, drove to the marina after a resident there called her about 5 a.m. The dock where her family’s yacht was moored had caught fire, the neighbor told her. Her family’s boat was among those that burned, said Baechler, looking out at the marina where pylons still stood and crumbled tin from the roof that once extended the length of the dock sat atop the water.
Baechler said she knew the couple who died in the blaze, describing them as “wonderful people” and “experienced boaters.”
Franklin D. “Buddy” Wyker, the neighbor who called Baechler, also said he knew the couple who died and called them good neighbors.
Wyker was in the middle of morning exercises inside his home overlooking the marina when he heard a “strange noise.” He looked out of the window and saw the dock on fire, called police and took a photo of the blaze before running out toward the marina.
“I immediately went over to the marina to see if I could help and the only thing I could do was take pictures of it burning,” Wyker said. “I lost two good friends in the fire.”
Wyker, who has lived at the Overlook in Urbanna since 1976, said people from across the state, including the Richmond area, kept their boats docked there.
Geller, the state police spokeswoman, said the blaze was brought under control by 8:30 a.m. Fourteen volunteer fire departments from across the region responded.
In an emailed statement about 1 p.m., Geller said Search and Recovery Team divers with the Virginia State Police, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard were checking a submerged boat and another partially submerged boat to ensure no one was on board at the time of the fire.
The Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Chesapeake Field Office is handling the state investigation, she said.