There are at least eight fatalities after a fire destroyed Dock B at the Jackson County Park early Monday morning. Jackson County Chief Deputy Rocky Harnen said there were some minors that lost their lives in the fire.
“It’s always tough when people lose their life, it’s even worse when it’s young people, which we had in this case,” said Harnen. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the families that lost loved ones today.”
Jackson County Commission Chairman Tim Guffey echoed Harnen’s comments.
“This was a terrible accident,” said Guffey. “My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved, especially the families that lost loved ones.”
Guffey wanted to thank all Jackson County citizens for their support and prayers. He also wanted to thank all the first responders for the work they did on Monday.
Emergency crews received the call at 12:40 a.m. The call said one boat was on fire, but when responders arrived, several boats were on fire.
Scottsboro Fire Chief Gene Necklaus said the fire started on the shore side of the dock, which caused access problems for emergency responders and evacuation problems for occupants. Necklaus said several people either swapped boats or jumped into the water to find safety. Of those people, seven were transported to Highlands Medical Center where They were evaluated and released with zero to minor injuries, mostly minor hypothermia from the cold water.
Necklaus said 35 boats were destroyed in the fire. All boats anchored at Dock B were a total loss. Dock B housed a variety of vessels, from 20 feet to over 40 feet in length. Several of these boats were houseboats that served as a primary residence for occupants. Multiple boats sunk around the dock and surrounding waters.
Necklaus said immediate efforts were initiated to account for the occupants of the boats, made difficult due to some occupants reported as leaving in private vehicles.
The original unaccounted number was as high as nine at one point. Eight victims have been recovered. Currently there are no individuals unaccounted for. He said that unaccounted number may change as additional information becomes available.
Scottsboro Mayor Robin Shelton said it was a tragedy for the whole county.
“As much as we promote being on the lake, it makes you take a step back and realize that we’ve just got to make sure that everything we do and are involved with is safe,” said Shelton.
Necklaus said any chemical or fuel spills had been contained. He said it did not appear that any contaminates have released into the main river channel or encroached on any water treatment intakes. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management will oversee the cleanup effort.
“This will be an extremely intense and long operation,” said Necklaus.
Several agencies from all across the state, regional area, and local, were on the scene. Multiple dive teams were on site and in the water conducting searches.
“Because of the difficulty accounting for occupants, we expect the recovery operation to last for several more days as we want to ensure all the vessels are cleared as they are removed. That is the primary objective right now, making sure that all victims are found,” said Necklaus.
Jackson County Emergency Management Agency Director Paul Smith said they did not know what caused the fire. The Alabama State Fire Marshal’s Office, in coordination with the Scottsboro Fire and Scottsboro Police investigators and the ATF will investigate the cause of the fire.
“This is one of the most devastating things I’ve ever seen,” said Necklaus.
Necklaus asked that citizens avoid the area as the operation continues, and asked that everyone remember the victims, families and responders in their thoughts.