One Year Later: First responders reflect on tragic dock fire that killed 8

JACKSON COUNTY, Ala. – Jan. 27, 2021 marks one year since a deadly dock fire at Jackson County Park in Scottsboro.

“You could see the flames from the highway. It was raging and you had the propane tanks , the bowels were popping off of them and they were whistling, and screaming of the propane tanks. It was pretty harrowing,” said Scottsboro Jackson County Rescue Squad member Robert Shook.

“It was almost overwhelming to see that much devastation that quickly and then being in a position where you weren’t really in a position to do much about it,” said Scottsboro Fire Chief Gene Necklaus.

A floral cross currently hangs near where Dock B once was before a fire that started near the electrical panel on one boat nearest the shoreline destroyed it.

Very little remains of the dock itself; only a couple of pieces of wood sticking above the water.

Within minutes of its ignition, the blaze took over the entire dock, trapping 17 people.

“Our response time was less than nine minutes from the time the call came out to when we were actually pulling people out of the water,” said Shook.

“We were landlocked so to speak. We were cut off, plus you have individual vessels floating around that were on fire,” explained Necklaus.

They tried to escape by jumping into the water or getting on other boats and pushing it away from the burning dock and other boats.

8 people did not survive.

  • Grace Annette Watson Miles, 40
  • Christopher Zane Long, 19
  • Bryli Anniston Long, 16
  • Trayden Dominic Miles, 10
  • Kesston Damian Miles, 9
  • Dezli Nicole Miles, 7
  • Amanda Foster, 38
  • Yancey Ferrell Roper, 54

The Miles and Longs were all members of the same family, Jackson County EMA director Paul Smith told News 19 once the victims were identified.

Shook, who has been a volunteer with the nonprofit for 41 years helped save seven lives after the fire including his friend, Joe Miles, whose wife and children died.

“I personally knew the guy that lost his kids and I knew all his kids that perished in the fire and they were all really sweet kids and it was just really hard,” said Shook.

“This was impactful on us but that has to pail in comparison to how those families feel. I think about them just almost every day, certainly any time I’m out there or in that area,” added Necklaus.

“This is one of, if not the single worst thing that’s happened in the Scottsboro Fire Department and it’s one of the worst things to ever happen for the state from the loss of life standpoint. This is definitely one that’s not going to be forgotten by any of us,” said Necklaus.

First responders told News 19 that the dock fire was tragic, yet educational and led to equipment and protocol changes.

They said the experience gained will hopefully help them in the future.

“We learned a great deal. I know we can’t go back and if we could I don’t know that we could have done anything different in that moment,” said Necklaus. “It’s not generally what we do when we’re training to be firefighters. We don’t generally train on boat fires. I feel like we’re better prepared than we were,” said Necklaus.

“And we changed protocol on how we do things after that night. When we put our equipment up the next day, it was put up a different way so we could get out quicker,” added Shook.

The Scottsboro Fire Department bought a boat compatible with the ones used by the Scottsboro Jackson County Rescue Squad. It’s equipped with a fire pump, swim platform, rope, and sonar equipment. Necklaus said he hopes by storing it equal distance from both parks of the lake they cover will speed up recovery efforts should a similar situation happen.

The NTSB ultimately ruled the fire as accidental, although there was not enough left of the boat the fire originated on to determine the exact cause.

It is also an experience that will have a lasting impact on those involved.

“I think it brings everybody closer and it makes you go home and hold yours a little closer. Life is precious and it can be gone in an instant,” added Shook.