SCOTTSBORO, Ala. – Fire raced through an Alabama dock Monday, killing at least eight people and torching dozens of boats as people leaped into the Tennessee River to escape the roaring flames.
Scottsboro Fire Chief Gene Necklaus said eight people believed to be missing were confirmed dead. He said the death toll could rise as rescue workers access sunken hulls.
Thirty-five boats, houseboats and pontoon vessels burned in the fire. Some were docked for recreation, but for some the boats were their homes. Necklaus said the blaze was on the inland side of the dock, making rescues difficult.
Seven people were pulled from the water and treated for minor injuries, mainly for hypothermia from the cold water, he said. Some boats sank at the dock, he said, and some drifted from their moorings and sank.
Jackson County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Rocky Harnen said efforts to find all the boats, account for all the missing, identify those killed and notify families could take several days.
“There were numerous people rescued,” Harnen said. “We’re trying to get divers down here to search for possible victims.”
Julie Jackson awoke to a crackling sound, in the boat that she, her husband and child have made their home for five years now.
They moor at Dock A in Jackson County Park, a row of boat slips normally mirrored by nearby Dock B on Roseberry Lake.
The crackling Jackson heard early Monday was a fast-moving fire that – by the time she got off her boat to look – had engulfed half of Dock B.
“I could hear people screaming ‘help me,’” she told The Gadsden Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. “I never want to go through anything like that again.”
Jackson said in 18 minutes the dock was an inferno.
Mandy Durham and her boyfriend were among those sleeping on boats. She said she woke up to screams and “popping” noises.
“We could see red through the window. … All these boats have propane tanks and gas tanks, and that’s a lot of fire.”
She said she saw people jumping onto a boat at the end of the dock, but the flames spread to that boat, forcing them to leap into the water.
“Water was the only place they had to go,” Durham said. “It’s just extremely sad. It’s horrible.”
Thornton writes for The Gadsden Times. Bacon reported from McLean, Va. Contributing: The Associated Press