Lake Villa residents worried after boat fire

Firefighters' struggles to respond to a boat fire last month on Crooked Lake has some area residents asking what can be done to improve rescue crews' access to the lakeshore and prevent the situation from happening again.

It took crews from the Lake Villa Fire Department about 90 minutes to put out the May 21 fire caused by a mechanical failure in the engine compartment of a boat owned by Ken Kresen.

Kresen jumped off the boat and swam to safety after trying to use fire extinguishers to put out the fire without success, according to witnesses and neighbors who spoke about the incident this week to Lake Villa Township officials.

The first crews to arrive came by fire truck, but they concluded they could not make it down the boat launch because of its narrow width and low-hanging power lines overhead, witnesses said.

A rescue boat arrived later, but did not have gas in it, causing further delays while a resident retrieved a gas can for firefighters. By then, the fire had burned through the boat's anchor rope, according to the witnesses, setting the burning vessel adrift and across the shore to the former Camp Peacock property. Firefighters were able to reach the boat using the Camp Peacock beach area and extinguished the fire at 3:48 p.m. They pulled ashore the $2,500 boat, which was not salvageable.

John Wenszell, a board director and past president of the Crooked Lake Oaks Improvement Association, said he has been trying to figure out a solution to the issue of fire department access to the lake for several years.

Wenszell said the launch is used for rescue or recovery in “99 cases out of 100” because it is the most accessible launch to the lake.

Several residents raised their concerns this week with the Lake Villa Township Board.

“We're pretty concerned about being able to get fire and rescue down there — it pretty much serves the whole west shore and north shore,” said Ted Mathis, the association's current president. “We'd like to try to figure out, between the (fire department) and the township, what it is that's required for the truck to get in there, both turn radius-wise and powerline-wise.”

Wenszell said that according to his research the 16-foot-wide launch should be 20 feet wide, and the power lines should be raised at least 13.5 feet. The association widened the launch to its current width from 12 feet last year.

“I want (the fire department) to come out here and to take a look at it to make sure we conform ... so any vehicle they bring down is able to clear it without hesitation,” he said. “When we've got a rescue vehicle that comes in the neighborhood, I don't want any delays.”

Kresen could not be reached for comment, but his girlfriend, Fawn Linschoten, said the fire and response presented a dangerous situation.

“Somebody really could have been hurt,” she said. “There could have been more people on that boat (or) children. (The fire department) has got all these lakes around here; they should be prepared.”

Lake Villa Fire Protection District President James Stout said he will get back to the association members once he talks to fire inspector Greg Phillips about the situation.

Fire Chief Frank Slazes declined to comment, saying he wants to review video footage of the response before discussing the situation.

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