First responders, community react to deadly Jackson County marina fire

Updated: Jan. 27, 2020 at 11:35 PM CST
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JACKSON COUNTY, Ala. (WAFF) - A massive fire ravaged Dock B at the Jackson County Park Marina early Monday, leaving eight people dead and dozens of boats destroyed.

The tragedy has taken a toll on the entire community.

Both witnesses and first responders say this isn’t something they’ll soon forget. While it’s a scene emergency crews trained for, they never expected to have to put that training into practice.

“One of the most devastating things I’ve ever seen," said Scottsboro Fire Chief Gene Necklaus.

Necklaus said he knows the next few days won’t be easy.

Rescue boats searched the waters working to recover boats and bodies from a fire that quickly engulfed the area where many people called home.

“The issue with houseboats is limited means of escape, limited means to get out of the cabin in a houseboat. A fire consumes it rather quickly,” Necklaus said.

Jonathan Windsor with Union Rescue Squad in Boaz was paged out to help. He didn’t expect what he would find when he got to the scene.

“Me and my captain spent two hours in the water. Seeing some of the things we seen I don’t wish on anybody," he said.

Rescue crews from all over searched the water while state officials looked on with their helicopter from above the scene.

The area around dock B is now contained to prevent fuels and contaminants from leaking into Lake Guntersville.

Crews say they won’t give up until all victims have been recovered. They will then turn the scene over to the state to begin their investigation into what caused this fire that took so much from so many people.

“Like I said, it’s a bad situation. My mind can’t process this, probably not. Like I said, it’s the worse thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Windsor

Family members of those who died and locals who have had boats there have been shaken by this.

“This wasn’t just a dock for them. It was a home away from home for us to hang out. This was their home. This is where they lived,” said Nathan Rittenhouse.

The majority of the 35 boats destroyed were permanent housing for several people. “To get a call and see the docks completely burned down, and then know that we’ve lost some really good friends and acquaintances while up here," Rittenhouse said. When Rittenhouse got the call Monday morning, he had no idea it was his friends who lost their lives. As he arrived to the docks, shock and hurt set in.

He said one man tried to get people people to safety on his boat, but another boat crashed into it, setting it on fire. That man, who put his life on the line for others, also lost his life in the fire.

“It’s very devastating, very heartbreaking. Lost some good friends, and you know, you just become family,” he said.

“Family” was a word used by many to describe Dock B. Rittenhouse says for now, all they can do is pray and remember the times they had on Dock B with their family. “B dock was fun,. We had B dock karaoke on Saturday nights. We’d sing and have a good time," he said.

The American Red Cross is helping survivors with housing and food.

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