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Investigators determine space heater caused deadly boat fire

A fire that killed a man and caused his boat to sink at the Bethel Island Marina earlier this month was caused by the improper use of a portable space heater on the vessel, the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District said Tuesday.

Douglas Hiles, 56, died in the fire reported around 10 p.m. on Feb. 7, Super Bowl Sunday. Crews arrived and found the boat in flames that had also spread to a dock awning.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze but learned a man lived on the boat and his vehicle was still parked at the marina. The boat ended up sinking early the next morning, then crews raised it on Feb. 10 and found the man, later identified as Hiles, county sheriff’s officials said.

Hiles’ death was due to smoke inhalation and the fire district said the space heater was what sparked the fire.

Fire Marshal Steve Aubert said in a news release:

“While the weather can be cold during this time of year, portable space heaters have very specific manufacturer specifications for use. These typically call for clearance requirements and safety protocols to safely operate one of these devices.”

No oiled wildlife were reported as a result of the sunken boat, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response.

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