Update 11:30cst: Scottsboro Fire Chief Necklaus confirms 8 fatalities from the overnight Jackson County fire.

Boaters were forced to jump into the water to escape an explosive fire that destroyed at least 35 vessels at the marina on the Tennessee River just after midnight on Monday. Authorities are reporting 5 fatalities, 7 people were sent to hospitals and 7 others were initially reported missing.

The devastating Jackson County fire was called in after midnight as people living or staying on their boats overnight were asleep, the blaze burned the wooden dock and an aluminum roof over the slips which caused flaming debris to fall into and around the boats making escape more difficult.

“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.”

Boat owner Mandy Durham and her boyfriend, who live on a boat nearby spoke to reporters.

“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.”

The Scottsboro fire chief expects the number of missing to fluctuate throughout the day, some of the boat owners may not have been on the docks, but need to be checked on to be sure of their whereabouts. Most of the 35 boats were liveaboards according to reports.

Image: Dewayne Patterson
jackson county fire

The Jackson County Park Docks and Marina on the Tennessee River includes a boat ramp, a dock and a restaurant, and offers boat rentals, according to Jackson County’s government website.

We’ll post updates to this story as we get them.