That thing up there is what’s left of a commercial flare. This article was originally written as part of my freelance journalsit/photographer gig on the upper west end of the Olympic Peninsula. I’ve added myself as part of the story.
A bright red commercial flare, shot into the water near Slip Point, in Clallam Bay, combined with Clallam County’s efficient inter-agency notification system and the ability of a small close-knit community to spread information, could end up costing county emergency services thousands of tax-payer dollars.
Clancy Phillips, of Olson’s Resort in Sekiu, saw what appeared to him to be a burning boat near the Clallam River. He and others at the resort saw what they thought were people from the boat walking on the beach.
Jim (Carl) Bryden, who lives on Slip Point, saw the flare smoking in the water in front of his house. He was joined by Clallam Bay residents Ric Palumbo and Juan Aldana.
“They think the boaters walked to a local store,” said Palumbo, repeating what he had heard about the supposed victims.
Bryden took a photo of the flare, which he later sent to the Peninsula Daily News — when the following was all over.
The Emergency Medical Team, siren flashing, swung into the dead-end street above the beach, and was soon joined by a Border Control vehicle. The teams, receiving information from the witnesses, and assuming the flare had been fired from the boat, dashed off to Clallam Bay in an attempt to locate the boaters.
I was walking back to the house, convinced that Jim — who is quite calm and reliable — knew what he was talking about. That’s when I got the phone call from my editor at the Peninsula Daily News, who had received information that the Coast Guard was going out to check on the boat.. At the editor’s insistance — although I did repeat the closest witness accounts — I began my travels around Clallam Bay, hunting for more information.
Dave Weiss, at Al’s Mini-Mart, the store closest to the beach, said he’d heard about a burning boat, but no one had showed up at the store.
The EMT team left with a Clallam Bay Fire Department truck to see if the boaters were in Sekiu.
Gary Ryan, of Van Ripper’s Resort in Sekiu said, “I saw the fire. There was a lot of smoke, and orange flame coming off the water. Then I saw three people in the water.”
Troy Berger said, ‘Local kids saw it. They said it was a commercial flare. They said they saw bubbles where the boat went down.”
Cassie Burrow, of Olson’s Resort, used binoculars to sight the fire.
“I saw it out the window, real close to shore,” said Burrow. “You could see a big huge ball of fire and smoke trailing off to the right. I called the Coast Guard.”
Larry Brooks, standing overlooking the Sekiu breakwater, said, “I saw two men with binoculars watching and so was the lady inside. There was no flame but what else could make that amount of smoke?”
Back at Slip Point, a Coast Guard search boat scudded around the bay, searching for any evidence of a sunken vessel.
Bryden asked, “Was it possible the people in Sekiu saw us three?” referring to himself, Palumbo and Aldana. “The flare was in the water about fifteen yards off the beach. We watched it burn.”
EMT team leader Gene Laes, watching his team walk the Slip Point beach, said, “Three or four people said they saw smoke, and then a boat that disappeared.”
Coast Guard BM-1 Brenden Conny said, “At this point, it’s a flare, according to the report from the EMT.”
A Coast Guard Dolphin helicopter arrived and circled the bay several times before leaving the area.
Cassie Burrow later said that, considering the colors and smoke, she and others were beginning to agree that what they had seen was a very large flare.
Two large red flares were shot off by non-professionals on the beach during the Neah Bay fireworks display. Dan Barr, who served in Vietnam, said they looked familiar.
“When I heard them, I flashed back to what we’d used in Vietnam,” said Barr. “They looked like military flares.”
“That covers a lot of different types of flares,” added Barr.
Barr said that he’d been in the back room of his house when he heard a pop, as though from a firework, about 10:30 on Thursday.
“It was pretty loud. I thought it was echoing off Bear Kill ridge behind us,” he said. “Our cat turned and looked at the same moment I did.”
Renee Duncan, who lives on Slip Point, shook her head and said, “This is why people should never use emergency flares except for emergencies. This will cost a lot.”
Several days later, Dan and I found a blown flare body on the beach near the Clallam Bay bridge. Photo above.