Several people have died in a boat dock fire at Jackson County Park on the Tennessee River in Scottsboro, Alabama, Jackson County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Rocky Harnen confirmed to The Associated Press. At least 35 boats were destroyed in the fire, the majority of which were reported to be houseboats.
The fire, which burnt through the wooden dock and caused parts of its roof to collapse, was first reported a little after midnight on Monday. The flames quickly blocked the dock’s access to the shoreline, forcing many people into the river water as a means of escape.
“There were numerous people rescued from the water,” Harnen told the AP, while also confirming the recovery of two bodies. “We’re trying to get divers down here to search for possible victims in the water.”
“We woke up hearing screams and popping noises,” Mandy Durham, who was on a boat moored at a nearby dock, told the AP. “Within 15 to 20 minutes, the whole dock was in flames,” she added. “All these boats have propane tanks and gas tanks, and that’s a lot of fire.”
While the total number of fatalities has not yet been confirmed, Scottsboro Fire Chief Gene Necklaus said earlier Monday that 7 people were missing and 7 others were taken to the hospital with burns and/or injuries sustained in the water. Authorities are still trying to determine how many of the burned boats’ owners were onboard at the time of the fire.
In a tweet, the Jackson County Emergency Management Agency cautioned individuals to avoid Jackson County Park on land and water due to firefighting and rescue operations that have been ongoing since authorities were first called at 12:30am. 17 agencies are currently on site with search and rescue boats, according to local news channel WHNT, and are also using booms to contain fuel that spilt into the water.
The cause of the fire is still unknown.