GPB's Grant Blankenship reports on the Golden Ray fire.

The Golden Ray, the massive container ship left stranded on its side in St. Simons Sound after running aground September 2019, was ablaze Friday afternoon, with flames stretching high into the air. 

According to Lt. Pat Frain of the U.S. Coast Guard, the fire started when workers on the vessel used cutting torches to prepare a part of the hull for a much larger cut to come later. 

Those torches started a small fire, which by Friday afternoon had become a massive blaze easily visible from the pier on St. Simons Island and billowing black smoke toward Jekyll Island. 

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“The smoke is so thick you cannot even see Jekyll Island,” said Sue Inman of the Altamaha Riverkeeper, watching from the water. “And the flames are just huge. They're going above the top of the ship and it was covering at least five floors, if not six floors.”

The Golden Ray is 12 stories high and still holds hundreds of cars. 

According Fletcher Sams, also of the Altamaha Riverkeeper, both the EPA and Georgia's Environmental Protection Division are beginning to monitor air quality on Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island and in Brunswick. Monitoring water quality closer to the vessel will have to wait for the fire to lessen and for the massive heat to subside.

Lt. Frain with the Coast Guard said all the workers on the salvage vessel around the Golden Ray were evacuated and are safe. 

Watch The Fire Here

A little before 3 p.m., Frain said so none of the contaminants aboard the ship had made it past the floating containment booms surrounding it in the sound. Around 6 p.m., however, Sams of the Riverkeeper said the fishing pier on Jekyll Island was closed after a detectable but not dangerous amount of contaminant was found in the air.

Contaminants onboard the Golden Ray potentially include some 44,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil and all the fluids contained in the cars in the hull.