After months of cleanup and restoration, boat dealer Bay Marine, with locations in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Florida, recently reopened its Waukegan, Illinois, storage facility, which was severely damaged in a five-alarm fire in early February of 2022. About 100 firefighters spent six and a half hours battling the flames, intense smoke, and very cold temperatures before bringing the blaze under control. No injuries or fatalities were reported, but the warehouse and most of the 68 boats stored inside were severely damaged.
“Three separate fires were started inside our facility by an arsonist that broke into the building,” said Bay Marine co-owner Matt Fellhofer, and emphasized that the incident is still under investigation. “Sadly, more than 50 vessels of clients were damaged.”
The 12–15 boats considered a total loss were auctioned off by Cooper Capital for salvage or restoration. Working with dozens of contractors, Bay Marine then coordinated the restoration of the remaining vessels. The company estimated that boat damage alone was $30–$40 million, with an additional $4–$5 million for rehabbing the building.
By May 1, typically the beginning of launching season in the Midwest, every boat had been moved through the cleaning process at least twice before being staged for spring launching so the building could be turned over to contractors for remediation and reconstruction. Fellhofer said, “This whole effort cost nearly as much as it did to build the structure from scratch. Luckily, we received guidance through our insurance agent and made several significant changes to our policy coverage that really ensured our survival through this disaster.” Renovation of the facility built as recently as 2017 included the 40,000-sq-ft (3,700m2) storage barn and a 9,000-sq-ft (836m2) office space.
“We could not have managed our way through this crisis without the support of our employees, many of whom were on-site the night of the fire and worked tirelessly for the months that followed to keep our operation viable through such an event,” Fellhofer noted. He stressed the importance of communication with clients during the disaster. “Customers want to know what is happening, whether it is good news or bad. You need to keep them informed and be honest.” And last but not least, there are insurance policies and guidance from the agent to ensure sufficient coverage for boats and buildings but also for lost income and miscellaneous expenses to cover the cost of temporary offices and buildings needed to keep the facility operating.
“We would like to thank the Waukegan Fire Department and Waukegan Police Department for their incredible efforts and dedication to putting out the fire, along with all the words of support and encouragement from our customers, friends, and family,” Fellhofer said in a press release. “We are excited to welcome the community back into our Waukegan location as we look ahead to 2023.” Bay Marine, 3 E Madison St., Waukegan, IL, 60085 USA, tel. 847–336–2628