The fire chief in Scottsboro, Alabama, said at least eight people were killed in an explosive fire fueled by gasoline and propane tanks that consumed some 35 vessels along the Tennessee River. Scottsboro Fire Chief Gene Necklaus said all eight people known to be missing have been confirmed dead, and "that number could go up, because we don't know how many were on boats" that sank.
Earlier Mecklaus told CBS News that seven people were sent to hospitals suffering from exposure to the frigid water or the flames. Most were in stable condition, he said.
The fire quickly consumed the dock as people were sleeping, cutting off their escape routes and raining debris.
Necklaus said about 35 boats were destroyed, some of them sinking at the dock and others floating away before going under. He said divers need to locate each one and search them individually to be sure.
Boaters leaped into the water to escape an explosive fire that consumed almost three dozen vessels docked along the Tennessee River early Monday.
CBS affiliate WHNT-TV reported 19 agencies from all across the state were on the scene, including multiple dive teams.
The blaze was reported shortly after midnight as people living in the boats were sleeping, and consumed the wooden dock and an aluminum roof that covered many of the vessels, cutting off escape routes and raining debris into the water.
"We woke up hearing screams and popping noises," Mandy Durham, who was with her boyfriend in a nearby boat, told The Associated Press. "When we woke up, we could see red through the window."
"Within 15 to 20 minutes, the whole dock was in flames," she added. "All these boats have propane tanks and gas tanks, and that's a lot of fire."
The blaze destroyed the B dock, about 50 yards from the A dock where the boat of Durham's boyfriend was moored.
"There were numerous people rescued from the water who had escaped by going into the water," Jackson County Chief Sheriff's Deputy Rocky Harnen told The Associated Press shortly after dawn. "We're trying to get divers down here to search for possible victims."
People were jumping onto a boat at the end of the dock because fire had consumed the middle portion and that was their only escape. But then the flames spread to that boat, leaving water as their only way out, Durham said.
"Water was the only place they had to go," Durham said. "Its just extremely sad. It's horrible."
Most of the boats that were destroyed had people living on them permanently, but some mainly spent weekends on them, Durham said. The park on the Tennessee River includes a boat ramp, a dock and a restaurant, and offers boat rentals, according to Jackson County's government website.
"Everybody is just hoping to find the ones they knew on that dock. There were families there. It's devastating," Durham said.