Fire burning on a dock where at least 35 vessels, many of them houseboats, were destroyed early Jan. 27, 2020, in Scottsboro, Ala. Scottsboro Fire Chief Gene Necklaus is confirming fatalities following the blaze.
Mandy Durham—AP
Updated: January 27, 2020 1:53 PM ET | Originally published: January 27, 2020 11:04 AM EST

Eight people have died in a boat dock fire at Jackson County Park on the Tennessee River in Scottsboro, Alabama, authorities confirmed at a press conference. At least 35 boats were destroyed in the fire, the majority of which were 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.

Scottsboro Fire Chief Gene Necklaus said that the number of deaths could rise up because it’s not known how many people were on the boats at the time of the fire. Seven people who had jumped off the boats were rescued and taken to a nearby hospital and were treated and released.

The boats destroyed ranged in size 20-feet to 40-feet long. Some of sank right at the dock, others floated away before sinking.

The chief estimated that the recovery crews will remain at the scene for three to four days to continue to search.

“Our primary objective remains to check every boat, every vessel, everything we can check to ensure that we have accounted for all the victims.” Chief Necklaus said at the press conference. “We don’t want anybody unaccounted for.”

A woman who was on a boat moored at a nearby dock told the Associated Press she had heard screaming. “We woke up hearing screams and popping noises,” Mandy Durham told the Associated Press. “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.”

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