Boaters leaped into water to escape Alabama dock fire; death toll uncertain

Published 8:06 am Monday, January 27, 2020

Boaters leaped into the water to escape a fire that consumed at least 35 vessels docked along the Tennessee River early Monday.

Authorities said there were fatalities as 7 people were sent to hospitals and 7 others were initially reported missing.

The blaze was reported shortly after midnight as people living in the riverboat community were sleeping, and consumed the wooden dock and an aluminum roof that covered many of the vessels, cutting off escape routes and raining debris into the water.

“There were numerous people rescued from the water who had escaped by going into the water,” Jackson County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Rocky Harnen told The Associated Press shortly after dawn. “We’re trying to get divers down here to search for possible victims in the water.”

“We have some confirmed fatalities, but we don’t have an exact number yet,” Harnen added. “We have several people who were taken to the hospital from being in the water, and some had minor burns.”

Scottsboro Fire Chief Gene Necklaus said earlier that 7 people were hospitalized and 7 others were missing as the fire destroyed at least 35 boats docked in Jackson County Park.

Harnen said officials are trying to account for about seven people who had places on the dock.

“They had slips here,” Harnen. “That doesn’t mean they’re in the water and it doesn’t mean they’re dead. We’re making attempts to find them.”

It’s been a challenge for rescuers to reach the victims, Harnen said: “The damage from the dock has fallen on top of the boats, and some of the boats have drifted off,” he said. The aluminum roof and wood structure was destroyed, as were about three dozen boats. Crews also were using booms in an attempt to contain fuel in the water, he said.

Crews were called to the fire at about 12:30 a.m. on Monday. The chief said most of the vessels had people living on board.

The Jackson County Emergency Management Agency says firefighting and rescue operations have been taking place on land and in the water.

The park on the Tennessee River includes a boat ramp, a dock and a restaurant, and offers boat rentals, according to Jackson County’s government website.