Tarpon Springs, Florida -- Flaming, spilling fuel spread an intense fire and threatened dozens of boats as an 85-foot shrimp boat burned at the west end of the city's famous Sponge Docks late Tuesday evening.

It took crews hours to put the fire out; some veteran firefighters said they had never in their careers fought a fire with this intensity and unique challenges.

Firefighters faced an incredible task. Not only did the boat have 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel on board, but it was tied up to a fuel dock -- putting the historic Sponge Docks at risk of a massive explosion or fire.

At about 8 p.m. Tuesday, the Skye Marie, an 85-foot shrimp boat moored at the fueling station on the Anclote River's south bank, caught fire.

The fire chewed through the fuel lines, setting the diesel on board ablaze. Fuel collected down in the bilge of the boat, making it very difficult to even reach the source in an effort to put it out.

At around 10:30, the Skye Marie listed to the side. Burning fuel dumped out of the boat and into the Anclote River.

The diesel fuel and debris burned on top of the water, drifting with the tide toward the opposite bank. That set other small fires near docks and other shrimp boats.

More fire trucks positioned themselves on the north side of the channel to deal with the smaller fires that were popping up along the bank.

"This could have been a lot worse had it been an incoming tide," said Scott Young, a district chief with Tarpon Springs Fire Rescue.

"When we have fuel in the water, on fire at one point, it would have gone up the stream into a more populated area of boats. So the outgoing tide assisted us with this effort."

As the Skye Marie went up in flames, two other boats were moored along side. Fire crews worked hard to keep fire and heat from damaging one.

The other -- named the Captain Eddie -- was cut loose. Crews allowed it to drift to where a tug could catch up to it. They towed it to Pelican Harbor and it's safe.

We don't know exactly why the fire started. The boat's owner says it apparently broke out in the engine room. We do know no one was aboard the Skye Marie when it caught fire and no one was reported injured or missing.

The boat is now mostly underwater; firefighters think it's resting on the bottom.

Long containment booms are floating on the surface, trying to hold in any more spilled fuel. Hazmat crews and the U.S. Coast Guard will assess and deal with the environmental damage.

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