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Authorities say two retirees from Tuscaloosa, Ala., died early Monday along with their golden retriever after the houseboat they lived on in Scottsboro, Ala., caught fire.

John Phillips Bruce, 79, and Emily Nelson Bruce, 69, lost their lives in a blaze at Goose Pond Colony Marina's dock 6 around 4 a.m. CDT Monday, Scottsboro Fire Chief Gene Necklaus said. The dog's name was "Lou."

Smoke inhalation has been ruled as the cause of death, Necklaus said.

The fire was reported "by a neighboring boater in the same stretch of dock [who] apparently woke up to the smell of smoke," Necklaus said. "They checked around their boat and then they saw smoke coming from the houseboat in question."

The neighbors quickly notified firefighters, who found most of the fire damage confined to the living quarters and galley, Necklaus said.

"The houseboat received significant damage to the interior," he said. "There was no damage to the hull or exterior."

The Bruces' 1988 model houseboat was large — about 60 feet long — and the couple had been living on it for about two years or so, the chief estimated. Necklaus said fire extinguishers were installed on the dock as required, but there were no working smoke detectors on the boat.

The Bruces appeared to have been asleep when the fire started and were "possibly awakened by the fire and attempting to escape the boat before being [overcome] by the smoke and heat," according to a fire report issued Tuesday.

"The fire appeared to start in the main quarters sitting area of the houseboat, igniting a couch," officials said. "The cause of the fire appears to be electrical in nature, starting from an overloaded power strip."

Fire officials said the tragedy is a vivid reminder "of the importance of working smoke alarms wherever [people] sleep, including boats, campers and RVs."

The Bruces' deaths mark the 34th and 35th fire fatalities in Alabama since Jan. 1. Alabama consistently ranks among the highest per-capita for fire deaths in the nation, officials said, underlining the need for better efforts at fire prevention and detection.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

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