'Devastating' fire at Alabama boat dock leaves at least eight dead

27 January 2020, 20:56

At least eight people were killed in the "devastating" dock fire
At least eight people were killed in the "devastating" dock fire. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

At least eight people have been killed and dozens of boats destroyed during a "devastating" dock fire in Alabama.

Scottsboro Fire Chief Gene Necklaus said the death toll "could go up" because authorities are unsure of how many people were on boats that sank.

At least 35 vessels were destroyed in the blaze along the Tennessee River, which began shortly after midnight while people were sleeping.

All people who were reported missing have been confirmed dead, however there could yet be more people unaccounted for.

The inferno rapidly consumed the dock and caused the aluminium roof to melt and collapse on to the boats below.

Escape routes were cut off as debris from the roof rained over the vessels, forcing people to jump into the river to flee.

At least seven people were taken to hospital suffering from exposure to the flames or the bitterly cold water.

Many of the boats had people living on them permanently
Many of the boats had people living on them permanently. Picture: PA

Mr Necklaus said some of the boats sinked at the dock, while others floated away before going under.

He added that divers investigating the tragedy must locate and search each vessel individually to work out whether there were any other victims.

"We woke up hearing screams and popping noises," said Mandy Durham, who was with her boyfriend in a nearby boat.

"When we woke up, we could see red through the window.

"Within 15 to 20 minutes, the whole dock was in flames. All these boats have propane tanks and gas tanks, and that's a lot of fire."

Ms Durham explained how people were forced to jump on to a boat that was already ablaze at the end of the dock because it was their only route to safety.

The Alabama dock fire destroyed at least 35 boats
The Alabama dock fire destroyed at least 35 boats. Picture: PA

Once the flames destroyed the vessel, entering the water was their only chance of escape.

Jackson County Chief Sheriff's Deputy Rocky Harnen said that reaching the victims proved challenging for rescue crews.

"There were numerous people rescued from the water who had escaped by going into the water," he said.

"The damage from the dock has fallen on top of the boats, and some of the boats have drifted off."

Smoke could still be seen rising from the remains of the wooden dock hours after sunrise, with pieces of the aluminium roof partially submerged.

Police and fire boats were placed near the scene, alongside a yellow floating boom that was deployed around the marina to prevent spilled fuel from spreading.

Ms Durham said that many of the boats had people living on them permanently, and only a few were owned by people who just spent weekends on them.

"Everybody is just hoping to find the ones they knew on that dock. There were families there. It's devastating," she added.