Thick smoke from boat fire forces customers out of San Diego Harbor restaurants

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The San Diego Harbor is one of the city's most breathtaking views but thick, choking smoke is clouding one of the area's biggest tourist attractions.

"It was difficult to breathe and you couldn't really see," Cristina Hughus said.

Visitors staying in waterfront hotels learned about the fire from an announcement.

"Gentleman came over the intercom and said there's tons of smoke outside," said Lance Ritchie. 

RELATED: Multi-alarm fire erupts on fishing vessel docked in San Diego Bay

When Ritchie walked out of his hotel, he couldn't believe it.

"It's intense, I wasn't expecting it to be so strong when I got here, but it's pretty bad," Ritchie said.

The smoke was so bad that waterfront restaurants that would be packed on a sunny afternoon sat empty for the lunch rush.

Other people walked around covering their mouths. 

"We were going to have lunch here but the smoke inhalation was just so strong, so we had to leave," Savannah Lathem, who is in town from Alabama, said.

The American Lung Association says breathing in the acrid smoke can be especially harmful to people with asthma or COPD. Children should also avoid the smoke.

Many of the stores at Seaport Village noticed fewer customers. Several closed early.

"I've been coughing a little bit this morning and I definitely had customers come in here coughing and then they're just kind of in and out," said Blair Calhoun, an employee working in Seaport Village Friday.

Exactly what is burning inside the boat is unclear. U.S. Coast Guard San Diego is taking steps to protect the water with a floating boom.  The boom is supposed to keep toxic materials from spreading farther into the bay. 

"It is a bummer, this is our first time here, hopefully, they get it cleared up," Lathem said.

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