News spread quickly through South Jersey’s tightknit rowing community Wednesday that several boats had been set ablaze at the Camden County Boathouse.
The words “fire” and “boathouse” spell horror to people familiar with the Cooper River’s picturesque boathouse. The facility houses scores of sleek racing shells, many of them worth tens of thousands of dollars each.
It turned out, however, that the shells were safe. However, four launches had been set ablaze. One essentially sank. The launches are used for coaching, during races and to provide aid if a rower goes in the water.
Shortly after midnight, Pennsauken firefighters went to the boathouse and put out flames on four boats, all belonging to Bishop Eustace Preparatory School. Nearby boats were unharmed.
Assistant Varsity Crew Coach Matt Bowen said it appeared that someone had removed the fuel cans from each boat, doused the boats and then set them on fire.
Bowen added that authorities spotted a male suspect on surveillance video late last night around the time the fire occurred.
He said the school probably will have time to replace the boats, which were insured, before the fall crew season.
One boat was completely capsized, suffering extensive damage. Two others had burned motors, and one sustained heavy fire damage to the deck while the engine remained intact. Another boat suffered mild fire damage.
Camden County Spokesman Dan Keashen said the fire has been flagged as “suspicious” and is under investigation by the Camden County prosecutor’s office and the fire marshall.
Head coach Chris DeYoung could not be reached for comment.
The Camden County Boathouse houses boats for many South Jersey crewing teams, including, Haddon Township, Lasalle Academy, Moorestown High School, Rutgers-Camden and Cooper River Rowing Club. It also houses boats used in the annual Dragon Boat Fesitval.