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A salvage crane shrouded in fog rises above a barge in a creek near the Tennessee River at the scene of a fatal marina fire at Scottsboro, Ala., on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

This story was updated at 5:35 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, with more information.

SCOTTSBORO, Ala. — As the morning fog burned away Tuesday, heavy machinery began removing the wreckage of 35 boats that had been destroyed in a deadly blaze early Monday.

It was a somber scene at Jackson County Marina's B dock, where eight people perished, including one who drowned. Among them were four children ages 7, 9, 10 and 16, according to Jackson County Coroner John David Jordan. He said their identities would be released in the coming days after next of kin has been notified.

Scottsboro Fire Chief Gene Necklaus said seven other people were transported and treated for injuries at area hospitals, adding that those believed to be missing have been accounted for.

As the community reels from the tragedy, investigators are working to determine the cause of the blaze.

They are particularly interested in one boat that has been taken to a location away from the fire scene to be examined, Necklaus said. So far, there are no reported signs of foul play.

Because of the loss of life and the size and scope of the fire, the Alabama Fire Marshal and fire investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives responded to the marina to investigate, he added Tuesday as salvage barges carrying a large crane worked in the river behind him near the burned dock. Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board also were at the scene Tuesday.

While no other victims are believed to have perished, Necklaus and Jackson County EMA Director Paul Smith said divers and a search helicopter would work from the air and underwater to make certain there were no other victims.

"It was a keyed-access dock, so we know only slip renters and park personnel had access. There's 18 slips down each side," Smith said. If divers or the salvage vessel locate any human remains, all operations will then focus on recovery of those remains.

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Morning fog shrouds the scene on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, where eight people lost their lives in a tragic fire that started early Monday and destroyed 35 boats and extensively damaged structures. Recovery crew members work from boats and the remaining dock structure to remove debris. / Staff photo by Ben Benton

 

WAKING UP TO FIRE

The fire started shortly after midnight near boats in the first two slips on B dock, the dock closest to the shore, burning from the inland end of the dock outward and consuming all of the boats and the structure, Necklaus said. More than 25 agencies assisted on Monday as crews searched for survivors and recovered the bodies of the dead.

The fire chief said officials believe 21 or 22 people lived on B dock.

One marina resident was awakened by the sound Monday.

"I woke up to the crackling noise and I got off the boat to see what it was," Julie Jackson, a marina resident whose boat is on A dock, said Tuesday after returning from a trip into town. "We were concerned about the wind because if it blew ..."

Jackson said she stood with her fellow residents and helplessly watched the tragedy unfold.

"Eighteen minutes later," she said, "the dock was gone."

Jackson said a lesson can be learned from Monday's horror.

"One thing I will say is our dock needs a rescue boat docked here at all times," she said.

Witnesses said wind quickly swept flames down a wooden dock where an undetermined number of people were sleeping on boats, according to the Associated Press. Residents described a desperate fight for life, with some piling into boats to get away and others diving into water that was in the mid-50s to swim for their lives.

A Red Cross representative told the AP about 25 people were believed to have lived in boats at the dock full time, but it was unclear whether they were all there at the time of the fire or whether other visitors were present.

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A burned propane tank floats with other debris in a creek near the Tennessee River at the scene of a fatal marina fire at Scottsboro, Ala., on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. Protective boom has been installed to contain fuel and chemicals following a dock blaze that killed several people at Jackson County Park Marina. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

CLEANUP BEGINS

By Tuesday, rescue operations had switched to the work of recovery, salvage and containment of contaminants, Smith said, standing near the tragic fire scene on the Tennessee River's Lake Guntersville Reservoir.

Officials said it could be weeks before the work to clear the water is finished.

An environmental containment boom was placed in the water to contain contaminants near the marina and between Roseberry Creek and the Tennessee River to keep toxic substances from reaching the main river. Smith said the vessels had gas and diesel fuel as well as oil and other fluids that could leak into the water. Some boats floated away from the dock and sank.

Jackson County Park, where renovations to the marina and grounds were completed in 2017, was closed to boating and recreation starting Tuesday and continuing into the coming days, Smith said. Law enforcement boats also will be on patrol to keep other boaters out of the marina area.

Mike Hastings, who works for the Scottsboro Street Department and was putting up signs at the park on Tuesday, said he used to fish along the shores of the park as a youngster and Monday's tragedy was a shocking blow to the community.

"Like they always say, 'You never think it will happen in your area,' but when it does, it really hits home," he said.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.

 

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