SCOTTSBORO, Ala. - The Jackson County Coroner said Tuesday afternoon that four children were among the eight people killed in a devastating fire early Monday morning at a boat dock at Jackson County Park in Scottsboro.
The names of the victims are expected to be released Wednesday.
Jackson County Park was closed to nonresidents Tuesday as the investigation continued.
The residents WHNT News 19 spoke with Tuesday said the community of houseboats is more like family than neighbors.
Julie Jackson has lived in a houseboat along Dock A in the park for five years. She told WHNT News 19 that she chose to live there because it was peaceful. Jackson and others said this loss is something they will never forget.
“The end of B dock, we knew, and we had been over there,” said Jackson.
Jackson and her family, including her 12-year-old son, witnessed the deadly fires. “You can`t comprehend when people are screaming help me, help me. You can`t do anything. They died,” she exclaimed.
Jackson said her son cannot sleep after seeing the deadly fires. She said she and her husband took shifts sleeping Monday night so that an adult was awake all times if they needed to comfort their son.
She said crackling noises woke her up and was frightened when she saw the fire high above her boat. She described the rest as utter chaos.
“18 minutes and that dock was gone. It was just, it was over before we knew it although it burned a long time, but when the roof gave, that was it,” said Jackson.
The Jackson County Coroner told WHNT News 19 that ages of the children killed are 7, 9, 10, and 16.
“We’re all a family and this is just devastating. There`s no other word for it. A tragic loss of life, a tragic loss that babies didn’t make it.
Jackson told WHNT News 19 that because many of the boats are winterized, they are unable to quickly crank them and escape the flames.
Now that everyone is accounted for, the investigation and clean up will move forward.
“Recovery of debris and containment and collection of fuels, oils, anything else that might be hazardous to the environment,” said Jackson County EMA director Paul Smith.
Smith said the oil and fuel in the water are more of a nuisance than a problem.
He told WHNT News 19 the original sheen of the contaminants was moving northward toward the Highway 35 causeway.
However, Smith said overnight, the current changed and was pushing them back south.
He said that prompted Hepaco to put out another 3,000-foot containment boom.
“ADEM has sampled water three times since yesterday in various portions of the embayment here as well as over in the main channel of Tennessee River and will continue for the rest of this week and until they are satisfied there is no environmental impact more than what already happened,” said Smith.
Smith said the cleanup is being done by a certified contractor in conjunction with ADEM and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
He added during the press briefing Tuesday that four boats had drifted away during the fire and sank about 250 feet from the dock.
“One is 45-foot pleasure craft. They will begin work today to begin those, because not only are they a hazard to spill fuel into the lake but they’re a navigation hazard,” said Smith.
The state fire marshal’s office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) are trying to figure out how the fire started.
“You’re dealing with fire and fire, unfortunately, destroys evidence, so it takes a while to piece back together,” explained Paul.
“At this point, it’s fair to say that they are at least looking at one boat, in particular, not to say that they won't rule that out and move that on to next area,” said Scottsboro Fire Chief Gene Neckalus.
The U.S. Coast Guard is working with the National Transportation Board (NTSB) to recover the submerged boats.
If any other bodies are discovered, that salvage operation will stop, so divers can begin the recovery process again.
However, Necklaus said investigators are confident there are only eight victims from Monday’s fire.
Smith told WHNT News 19 that crews are taking their time since there is no longer an active emergency as well as to make sure the investigation is thorough, and no one is injured.
Jackson said she is going to fight to have the county dock a rescue boat at Jackson County Park.
She said having one there could mean the difference between life and death if a situation like Monday’s ever happens again.
She told WHNT News 19 that she had never asked for one prior to the fire because she never imagined something as tragic could happen at her home.
Jackson said Dock A residents are taking their own precautions to keep their neighbors safe.
She said every slip there will put up a flag outside their houseboat if they are home, and take it down if they are away, so that residents can be accounted for in case of emergency.