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.
Most of the boats that were destroyed in the blaze were houseboats, according to Mecklaus.
“There were numerous people rescued from the water who had escaped by going into the water,” Jackson County Harnen told The Associated Press shortly after dawn. “We’re trying to get divers down here to search for possible victims in the water.”
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.”
Harnen said “we have some confirmed fatalities, but we don’t have an exact number yet.” He added that several of those hospitalized suffered from being in the water, and some were burned.
Several killed in fire at boat dock, 35 boats destroyed
“They had slips here,” Harnen. “That doesn’t mean they’re in the water and it doesn’t mean they’re dead. We’re making attempts to find them.”
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.
It’s been a challenge for rescuers to reach the victims, Harnen said: “The damage from the dock has fallen on top of the boats, and some of the boats have drifted off,” he said. The aluminum roof and wood structure was destroyed, as were about three dozen boats. Crews also were using booms in an attempt to contain fuel in the water, he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.