Flames shot 12 feet above the water of the Tennessee River on Wednesday evening, burning out the interior of a large boat that a Signal Mountain man called home.
According to neighbors, Mike Hoseman has lived in the permanently docked Chattanooga Dinner Star on Suck Creek Road for more than three years. Neighbors first noticed the boat was burning while building a deck on a home about 200 yards away.
"One of the guys thought he heard a boom," Jerry Thomas said. "A couple of us ran over to make sure everything was OK."
They heard another boom as they ran to the boat to make sure animals and a woman they had seen inside the boat earlier were safe, but "smoke was so bad, you couldn't get in," Thomas said.
The men later located the woman in a nearby truck. They believe two kittens in the boat escaped, but were unsure of the fate of a Rottweiler.
Things might have gone much differently had it not been for the quick action of the Tennessee Aquarium's River Gorge Explorer, which was first to respond to the fire and used its firefighting equipment to spray down the burning boat.
The Explorer responds to any emergency call, according to Tennessee Aquarium spokesman Thom Benson - even if the boat is in the middle of a cruse and full of passengers.
"Everyone was very complimentary of the crew," he said. "Clearly in this case they were able to take care of an incident that would have burnt the house boat down."
The Explorer was piloted by Pete Hoseman, the brother of boat owner and off-duty Explorer captain Mike Hoseman.
"If it hadn't been for him, that boat would have been destroyed," neighbor Bob Davis said.
Fire officials arrived on the scene soon after and made quick work of the interior fire.
The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office is investigating the cause.