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Pontoon erupts in flames; boats rush to rescue man, daughter and their dog

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David Gerszewski's pontoon goes up in flames Saturday evening on Devils Lake after it caught fire. About 30 boats came to the rescue of the Minto, N.D., man, his daughter and the family dog after they jumped into the water. (Submitted Photo)2 / 2

DEVILS LAKE—About 30 boats came to the rescue of a Minto, N.D., man, his daughter and the family dog after their pontoon erupted in flames Saturday on Devils Lake.

David Gerszewski, 50, said he and his daughter took the pontoon out Saturday evening for a joyride to make sure it was running well before taking the rest of the family out on the lake. Around 5:30 p.m., Gerszewski said he noticed smoke rolling out of the back end.

"In minutes, it was totally engulfed in flames," he told the Herald Sunday. "We all bailed off."

Gerszewski said he isn't sure how the fire started, but they got off as fast as they could. His daughter grabbed the dog and threw it off the pontoon and into the water before jumping in herself, he said. Wearing lifejackets, the three were able to swim away to a safe distance as the pontoon burned.

However, the three were about 2 or 3 miles away from the shoreline. Gerszewski said they could float and let the current take them to shore if they were lucky, but that could take hours.

Luckily, about 25 to 30 boats in the area saw the smoke and flames and immediately came to their rescues, he said. One boater pulled the dog into his craft as Gerszewski and his daughter climbed in.

"There were a lot of boats that came flying up" to make sure they were all right, he said.

Gerszewski, his daughter and the boaters sat for about an hour watching the pontoon flames burn until they extinguished on their own. Then the boaters helped pull the incinerated pontoon in to shore.

The pontoon is sitting on a trailer waiting to be looked over by an insurance agent, Gerszewski said. It's a total lost, but everyone is fine and escaped injury, he said.

"It just kind of shook me up a bit when it went up," he said. "I couldn't believe how fast it went up in flames. ... There's nothing left to it."

He said he was thankful the boaters came to help him and his daughter.

"That would have been long float," he said. "I'm just glad nobody got hurt."

He did have some advice for people who are boating.

"Make sure you everybody has lifejackets," he said. "Be prepared because it happens."

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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