Marina Fire In Northeast Alabama Kills Eight

A fire at a popular marina on the Tennessee River’s Lake Guntersville near Scottsboro, Ala., has left eight people dead and destroyed 35 boats.

The call came into the Scottsboro Fire Department about 12:40 a.m. on January 27 of a boat on fire at the Jackson County Park Marina’s Dock B.

“On arrival, that dock appeared to be about 30 percent involved,” said Scottsboro Fire Chief Gene Necklaus. “That fire, because of its location on the inland side of the dock, caused substantial access problems for firefighters to get to the fire and, at the same time, egress problems for the occupants of that boat dock to exit.”

Vessels at the dock ranged from pontoon boats to live-aboard houseboats and varied in size from 20 feet to 40 feet, Necklaus said. According to media reports, about two dozen people were residing in boats at the dock the night of the fire.

With the fire blocking access to the shore, many boat occupants jumped into the water to escape. Necklaus said firefighters pulled seven people from the water.

“They were transported to the local hospital, Highlands Medical Center, treated and released with minor or no injuries, mostly just from a hypothermic-type condition from the weather and water temperature,” Necklaus said.

Besides the vessels that burned dockside, others floated away from their moorings and sank. Soon after the fire, divers and a salvage crew were on site working to locate and remove those vessels.

By the day after the fire, details about the deceased began to emerge. A GoFundMe fundraiser was launched January 28 for Joe Miles, who lost his wife and five children in the blaze. The fundraiser identified six of the eight victims as Annette Miles (40) and her five children: Zane Long (19), Bryli Long (16), Traydon Miles (10), Kesston Miles (9), and Dezli Miles (7).

“The vessel the family was on became engulfed in flames after an attempt to escape, and their father, Joe Miles, was rescued from the water with burns,” Kayla Wormsley, Joe Miles’ sister-in-law, said in the GoFundMe post. “He has lost his home, everything he owns. Everything was replaceable, except for his family.”

The post ends with a quote from Psalm 34: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

On January 29, Jackson County, Ala., Coroner John Jordan officially identified all eight victims of the fire. Besides Annette Miles and her five children, the coroner identified the remaining victims as Amanda Foster Garrard (38) and Yancey Farrell Roper (54).

Absorbent boom was placed around the remains of the dock to contain fuel and other chemicals released from the damaged vessels. Necklaus said there had been no environmental impact in the main channel of the Tennessee River and that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management is overseeing the cleanup.

The investigation into the fire is ongoing under the direction of the Alabama State Fire Marshal, in conjunction with local Scottsboro officials, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the U.S. Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board, Necklaus said. According to reports, one of the vessels destroyed in the fire has been removed from the area for further investigation. Officials have not identified a cause of the deadly fire.