Historic J.B. Ford Freighter Catches Fire in Duluth Scrapyard

Firefighters were able to knock down the flames within an hour, and no one was injured.

DULUTH, Minn.- A busy day for the Duluth Fire Department brought them to a fire aboard the century-old J.B. Ford freighter in the Duluth port Monday — and age seemed to work against the ship, its old bones proving to be easily flammable.

The J.B. Ford is the oldest intact lake freighter still floating, launching in 1903 in Ohio. It was decommissioned to Duluth in 2015.

Duluth firefighters responded to flames at the front end of the vessel at 3:21 Monday.

While being scrapped at Azcon Scrapyard on Rice’s Point near the Blatnik Bridge, sparks from the metal ignited the 118-year-old wood in the captain’s area.

“They were essentially scrapping a portion of the ship and so unfortunately there was a spark that caught 100-plus year-old wood on fire,” said City Public Information Officer Kate Van Daele.

Firefighters were able to knock down the flames within an hour — but officials say moving about the aging structure was trickier.

“When we’re going into a residential home or apartment building, a boat is not very different,” Van Daele said, “in terms of the questions that come into play of where to step, and they certainly have to do quite a bit of analyzing to make sure that they’re safe and they’re not putting themselves in harm’s way.”

Crews used a crane to tear up and elevate a part that had more flames to ensure they could get water directly to all parts of that piece so it didn’t become further engulfed.

Keeping the flames at bay was important as it had 440 feet of ship to burn through.

The fire department did arrive with a full structure fire response of four rigs. Once again, nobody was injured.

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