A fire that broke out in a small boat on the Annisquam River Friday afternoon sent three people to Addison Gilbert Hospital and has the Gloucester Fire Department looking into what sparked the blaze.

Gloucester fire Chief Eric Smith said the three people who were on board -- described by witnesses as a man, a woman and a child -- were rescued by a passing boat that was nearby and quickly went to the scene.

Smith said that all were transported by Beauport Ambulance with what the chief termed "minor injuries."

The fire was reported at 12:42 p.m., and drew responses from the Fire Department, the Gloucester Police Department's patrol boat, the U.S. Coast Guard and the office of city Harbormaster Jim Caulkett.

Two eyewitnesses at the scene reported hearing a series of explosions -- which they attributed to the boat's primary and extra gas tanks -- as it launched from the ramp near Gloucester High School with the three people aboard.

"I heard them rev and rev their motor, like they were trying to start it and then it blew up," said Brandi Mitchell of Gloucester, who was standing on the bank above the river near the launch ramp.

Andrew Rymes of Toronto, who is in town from Canada for Saturday's Blackburn Challenge race, said he was tending to his boats on the upper bank across from Cape Ann's Marina Resort when he heard the explosions.

"The boat caught fire and I heard the guy screaming," Rymes said. "Then they jumped overboard. The fire boats and the city harbormaster boat were here really fast."

Smith said the Coast Guard towed the boat toward the middle of the river to steer it away from any potential onshore safety issues allow the Police Department's patrol boat to use its firefighting equipment to knock down the blaze.

While the city's Fire Department responded, it does not have a boat, and was unable to effectively reach the boat and the fire from dockside.

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