Deaths confirmed as fire destroys 35 boats in Alabama

SCOTTSBORO, ALABAMA (AP) — Boaters leaped into the water to escape an explosive fire that consumed at least 35 vessels docked along the Tennessee River early yesterday. Authorities said there were fatalities as seven people were sent to hospitals and seven others were initially reported missing.

The blaze was reported shortly after midnight as people living in the boats were sleeping, and consumed the wooden dock and an aluminium 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.”

The fire destroyed the B dock, about 46 metres from the A dock where the boat of Mandy Durham and her boyfriend is moored.

“We woke up hearing screams and popping noises,” Durham said. “When we woke up, we could see red through the window.”

“Within 15 to 20 minutes, the whole dock was in flames,” she said. “All these boats have propane tanks and gas tanks, and that’s a lot of fire.”

People were jumping onto a boat at the end of the dock because fire had consumed the middle portion and that was their only escape. But then the flames spread to that boat, leaving water as their only way out, Durham said.

“Water was the only place they had to go,” Durham said. “Its just extremely sad. It’s horrible.”

Harnen said “we have some confirmed fatalities, but we don’t have an exact number yet.” He added that several of those hospitalised suffered from being in the water, and some were burnt.

The remains of a dock where at least 35 vessels, many of them houseboats, were destroyed by fire. PHOTO: AP