NTSB says limited safety measures contributed to deadly fire at Jackson County Marina

NTSB releases report on marina fire

SCOTTSBORO, Ala. (WAFF) - On January 27, 2020, an entire dock caught fire killing eight people at the Jackson County Park Marina in Scottsboro.

A report issued from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in September states the marina’s limited fire safety practices contributed to the fire.

According to the report, at the time of the fire, Alabama’s fire codes for covered docks and marinas were not applicable to Dock B, which had been constructed prior to the new standards and codes.

The NTSB says the Jackson County Park Marina did not observe several existing safety practices and guidelines created for and used by the marina industry, and that limited fire safety practices contributed to the severity of the fire and loss of life.

The Accident

The report states the fire broke out in the middle of the night on board the Dixie Delight. The boat’s owner woke up in the middle of the night to his cabin filled with smoke. He used all of the contents in his own fire extinguisher before leaving his boat to retrieve another fire extinguisher from a neighbor. The Dixie Delight owner returned to his vessel, only to see the fire had grown. That’s when he called 911 for help.

The Dixie Delight was docked in the first slip on Dock B of the marina, so when the fire spread to the wooden-frame dock, it blocked the exit from Dock B to the shore. The report says the remaining 17 occupants of the boats at Dock B gathered at the end of the dock away from the fire.

As the fire continued to spread along the dock and its vessels, the people on the dock attempted to find alternate ways to escape.

Several people tried fire extinguishers with no luck, many jumped into boats and paddled away away from the dock. One person used a kayak to paddle to shore; 16 others got into two different cruiser boats. Some occupants even used folding chairs and wash brushes to paddle away. After leaving the burning dock, evacuees located only a single life ring.

A fire engine from the Scottsboro Fire Station 2 arrived and began setting up to fight the fire. County Sheriff’s officers arrived and searched the other docks at the marina for a boat that could be used for rescue; they found none, according to the report.

As the fire fully engulfed the dock, two boats were pulled back toward the end of Dock B, in what some survivors referred to as a fire-induced draft or vortex.

A few moments later, vacant boats were fully consumed by flames. One of these boats collided with the vessel containing four evacuees and quickly caught the boat on fire. Evacuees jumped into the 41-degree water to get away from the boat.

The seven occupants who remained in the cabin of the vessel — five children, their mother, and another woman — became trapped by the flames and died in the fire. One individual also drowned.

The report says none of the individuals who swam away wore life jackets.

First responders treated the survivors for exposure and burns on scene, and seven survivors with more serious injuries were transported to a local hospital for treatment.

Analysis

The Jackson County Park and Marina was previously inspected back in 2012, and again 2016. The 2012 inspection had no violations; the 2016 inspection cited a presence of a charcoal grill and a gasoline container on the docks. State codes did not require these inspections, and they were completed by the local fire department as a courtesy.

Because Dock B was built in 2003, Alabama had not yet adopted the current fire standards and codes. Therefore, these safety measures were not required.

The NTSB states that after a thorough and systematic examination of the wreckage, the state fire investigator was “unable to determine an area of origin due to all combustible material being consumed by the fire.”

The State’s report also concluded that the fire appeared to be accidental, because the ignition source of the fire aboard the Dixie Delight could not be determined due to the scale of fire damage.

A statement from NTSB:

At the time of the fire, Alabama’s fire codes for covered docks and marinas were not applicable to Dock B, which had been constructed prior to their adoption. Nonetheless, marinas should have measures and guidelines in place to prevent and mitigate accidents for all moored boats and their occupants. The Jackson County Park Marina did not observe several existing safety best practices and guidelines created for and used by the marina industry.”

“The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the fire aboard the Dixie Delight and subsequent fire at Dock B was a fire of unknown source, originating aboard the Dixie Delight in the vicinity of the vessel’s electrical panel. Contributing to the severity of the fire and loss of life were the County and marina’s limited fire safety practices.”

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