NTSB says Jackson County marina where 8 died in fire lacked safety measures

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JACKSON COUNTY, Ala. — A marina that was the site of a fire that destroyed a boat dock and killed 8 people didn’t have safety practices or guidelines in place to protect boats and their occupants, according to the National Transportation Safety Board’s report on the incident.

The NTSB report on the January incident states that Dock B at the Jackson County Park Marina didn’t need to follow Alabama fire code for covered docks and marinas, because the dock was built before the code was adopted.

But the marina also did not observe several existing safety best practices and guidelines created for and used by the marina industry, the report states.

The NTSB’s report also goes into detail about what happened the night of the fire.

Timeline of events

The fire began in the middle of the night on board the houseboat Dixie Delight, according to the report. The boat owner heard a popping sound and found smoke and flames near an electrical panel. The owner used his fire extinguisher and borrowed another from a neighbor, but was unable to get the fire out.

The Dixie Delight‘s owner and another boat owner tried to disconnect the boat’s utilities and push it away from the dock, but the fire grew too big too fast, according to the report.

The Dixie Delight‘s boat slip was at the end of the dock, so the fire blocked the exit to shore for the 17 people still on the boat dock, the report states. After a few of them tried fire extinguishers with no effect, they jumped into boats and pushed away from the dock. One person used a kayak to paddle to shore; the other 16 got into two different cruiser boats. They couldn’t get the engines running, so the boat occupants used folding chairs and wash brushes to try and paddle away from the dock.

Scottsboro police arrived about 10 minutes after the fire began. Firefighters arrived four minutes later, and then Jackson County deputies. They looked for a vessel they could use to rescue the people on the dock and found nothing, the report states.

The people on the two boats were stranded in the water and unable to get to shore, according to the report. As the fire consumed the dock, the boats were pulled back toward the dock in what survivors said was a fire-induced draft or vortex.

This eyewitness photo from the NTSB’s report shows people who pushed two boats away from the Jackson County Park Marina dock as fire consumed it. (Photo via NTSB)

As they were pulled toward the dock, burning boats were breaking loose and floating away. One collided with a boat containing four survivors and caught it on fire, according to the report. The people on board jumped off into 41-degree water.

The other boat – which had 12 people on board – was also on a collision course with burning boats. One person jumped into the frigid water to try and divert the burning boats.

Not long after, a burning boat hit the vessel, catching it on fire. Four of the 11 people jumped; the other 7 had retreated to the boat’s cabin.

They were trapped there and died in the fire, the report says.

The people who died in the cabin were Grace Annette Watson Miles, 40, and her five children: Dezli Nicole Miles, 7; Kesston Damien Miles, 9; Traydon Dominic Miles, 10; Bryli Long, 16; and Christopher Zane Long, 19. Amanda Garrard Foster, 38, also died in the boat’s cabin. Yancey Roper, 54, drowned after jumping in the water.

None of the nine people who jumped into the water wore a life vest, according to the report. The survivors either swam to shore or were picked up by the Jackson County Rescue Squad.

Ultimately, the fire was ruled accidental, although there was not enough left of the Dixie Delight to determine the exact cause. The determination was made based on the owner’s account of what happened.

Safety concerns

The Jackson County Park Marina did not get regular inspections, and didn’t need them under Alabama fire codes, the NTSB said.

Dock B at the marina was built in 2003, before the state adopted its current safety standards for marinas and boat docks.

The Scottsboro Fire Department did inspect the facility in 2012 and 2016 as a courtesy, the report states. The 2016 inspection found a charcoal grill and a gas can on the dock.

The report concludes that although the marina wasn’t required to adhere to existing fire codes, it should have had safety guidelines and measures in place to protect people and property there.”

“The Jackson County Park Marina did not observe several existing safety best practices and guidelines created for and used by the marina industry,” the report concluded. “Safety practices such as annual electrical inspections, employee fire training, biannual fire drills, and the development of a pre-fire plan with the fire department can better prepare marina staff and boat owners for a vessel or dock fire. In addition, a safety skiff, as recommended by guidelines, can be used by marina staff or first responders to assist in an emergency.”

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