Boats destroyed by fire, several rescued at Oyster Point in South San Francisco

Three boats anchored near Oyster Point in South San Francisco caught fire Wednesday, sending first responders scrambling to make rescues.

Calls to 911 about fierce flames, thick, black smoke, and people in the water were received about 7:20 a.m. the South San Francisco Fire Department said.

Witnesses described the frantic moments involving the three boats tied together and anchored in the harbor.

"I just heard a lot of screaming," said Kristen Behring who routinely walks near Oyster Cove Marina. "The flames seemed to be 20, maybe 30 feet in the air. It was blazing when I got there."

As the flames intensified, the boats floated apart. The smoke could be seen for miles.

"Our department received numerous calls for multiple boats on fire in the vicinity of the Oyster Cove Marina, which is just adjacent to Oyster Point Marina," Deputy Chief Matt Samson with South San Francisco Fire Department said.

Boats on fire at Oyster Point Marina in South San Francisco on November 1, 2023.

Witness Ashley Pelayo who works nearby said she called 911 concerned for people who were onboard the boats.

"That’s when we saw an explosion that happened, so I’m assuming the propane tanks burst," she said. "We saw people jumping into the water."

Rescue crews said when they arrived several people were in the water. South San Francisco Fire Department, San Mateo Harbor Patrol, Redwood City Fire Department and the U.S. Coast Guard all responded to assist in pulling people from the water.

"We saw that there was a gentleman still hanging onto the boat, and we’re yelling at him to get out of the way, move off of the boat," Pelayo said. "But he couldn’t swim."

No one was seriously hurt, and only one person was taken to a hospital with minor injuries, officials said. 

"They were very happy to be out of the water," said Samson. "Very happy to be safe."

Samson did not say how many people were rescued but people who frequent the marina said a group of people live aboard boats anchored in the area.

All three boats were destroyed but what sparked the initial fire is not yet known. None of the fire victims were immediately available for comment Wednesday.

Firefighters spent hours trying to clean up oil, debris and other contaminants. Oil booms were deployed to contain anything left behind.

South San Francisco Fire Department is investigating the cause of the fire. It’s unclear on which boat it started and exactly where.

"It was pretty scary," Pelayo said. "I can only imagine how the folks on the boat felt. If I was stressed out and scared, I’m sure they were even more scared and stressed."

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and X @BrooksKTVU