Plumes of heavy, black smoke filled the air Friday as one of four grass fires along Interstate 40 burned as many as 50 boats and other equipment at a boat dealership near Bryan Street.

Plumes of heavy, black smoke filled the air Friday as one of four grass fires along Interstate 40 burned as many as 50 boats and other equipment at a boat dealership near Bryan Street.

Shawnee Fire Department Battalion Chief Jim VanAntwerp said four fires developed from SH 9A going west to Harrison Street, so firefighters believe a vehicle with mechanical problems likely sparked the grass fires as it traveled along I-40.

“All it takes is a spark — the vegetation is so dry,” VanAnwerp said, adding all of the fires started on the north side of highway.

What began as one of those grass fires turned into much more as the flames spread to Boaties, Inc., a longtime Shawnee area boat dealership and business at 2305 Leo Sun, which is east of the SH 18/Harrison Street exit from I-40.

Equipment and many of the fiberglass boats kept in the yard there were consumed by the blaze, prompting the smoke to turn thick and black, VanAntwerp said.

With several boats burning, the smoke made it difficult for firefighters to see as they worked to keep the fire from spreading to other boats and several nearby homes.

“It burned right up to several houses,” the battalion chief said about the blaze, but added that no homes were damaged.

Pam Jones, who lives in the area of Westech and Bryan Street, kept a close eye on the smoke rising as those boats burned.

“At first I was worried,” she said, adding she planned to get the water sprinkler out and hose down her roof if necessary.

While the fire stayed well south of her home, she spent hours keeping a watch. She said the black smoke was so thick and heavy at times that it looked like a tornado was moving through the area.

A light south wind blew all that smoke to the north.

VanAntwerp said they were fortunate that it wasn’t a windy day or that could have fueled flames from the wildfire to spread much faster.

“Wind was in our favor – it wasn’t high” VanAntwerp said. “If there had been high winds…it could have been worse.”

The four fires burned an estimated 40 to 50 acres in the area along with an estimated 50 boats and other equipment, he said, and the flames also damaged at least one storage building.

With so many fires burning along that stretch of roadway at the same time, Shawnee had two fires working in their fire district and Earlsboro had two occurring in their fire response area. VanAntwerp said fire crews from both departments worked together on all four fires with assistance from McLoud, Meeker, Strother, the Oklahoma Forestry Department, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and a Citizen Potawatomi Nation tanker.

Several Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers also were in the area.

While traffic didn’t have to be shut down on I-40, VanAntwerp said there were traffic issues on nearby Westech Road. Several Pottawatomie County sheriffs’ deputies were among those at the scene for traffic control and safety.

Sheriff Mike Booth, who was on the west side of the business, was trying to keep residents informed and also keep people away from the dangerous smoke. No evacuations were needed in the area as crews were able to get that fire contained by late Friday afternoon, which relieved many who live in that area.

“The firefighters have done a good job — they were jolly on the spot,” Jones said.

VanAntwerp said the owner of Boaties, Inc. has been in business at that location for many years.

Attempts to reach Donnie Romberg of Boaties, Inc. for comment were unsuccessful Friday night.

Watch for any updates.