SCOTTSBORO, Ala. – Six members of one family were among the eight victims of an early-morning fire that engulfed a marina dock in minutes, forcing residents to flee in boats or jump into cold water to save themselves, authorities said Wednesday.
Grace Annette Watson Miles, 40, died in the blaze early Monday, officials said, along with five young people who relatives identified as her children: Dezli Nicole Miles, 7; Kesston Damien Miles, 9; Traydon Dominic Miles, 10; Bryli Long, 16; and Christopher Zane Long, 19.
Jackson County Emergency Management Director Paul Smith, who announced the victims' identities during a news conference, said no cause of death was immediately available.
Witnesses and relatives said the woman's husband, Joe Miles, was rescued from the water with burns. Miles and others helped the woman and her children get off the flaming dock on to a boat that later caught fire, said survivor Tommy Jones.
“There was nothing we could do,” said Jones, who swam to safety.
Smith said the other two victims included 54-year-old Yancey Roper, whom Jones identified as his brother, and Amanda Garrard Foster, 38.
Foster's stepsister, Monica Pascale-Howard, told the The Clarion-Ledger that her father married Foster's mother, giving her a sister she never had.
"She was silly," Pascale-Howard said. “She had the most outgoing personality. She was always happy. She was definitely my big sister. She looked out for me.”
Officials said about two dozen people lived in boats tied to a long wooden dock at Jackson County Park Marina, which is located on a wide creek that feeds the Tennessee River. Fire broke out on the end closest to land, blocking the lone exit and leaving boats or swimming as the only way to safety.
The dock, which was equipped with electricity, had working fire extinguishers that were last inspected in October, Smith said.
Fire inspection reports from 2012 and 2016, released by the Scottsboro Fire Department, didn’t cite any structural problems with the dock that burned. Both reports said the docks were clean, well-kept and had fire extinguishers, but they also noted the presence of items including gasoline containers and grills.
Many of the approximately 35 boats that burned were submerged in the water and mostly destroyed, making the salvage effort difficult, he said.
“They're salvaging slowly. We're in no hurry,” said Smith.