Dixie Delight: Report published into Alabama boat and marina fire which killed eight people

NTSB report on Dixie Delight fire
NTSB report on Dixie Delight fire

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has published its investigation report on the fire and explosion aboard houseboat Dixie Delight which spread through Jackson County Park Marina, Alabama, in January 2020, killing eight people. The report has highlighted that marinas should have measures and guidelines in place to prevent such incidents.

On 27 January 2020, about 0035 local time, fire broke out aboard the Dixie Delight, a 43-foot liveaboard houseboat, tied to Dock B at Jackson County Park Marina in Scottsboro, Alabama. The owner of the vessel attempted to extinguish the fire and push the burning vessel away from the dock, but the blaze engulfed the Dixie Delight and then spread to neighbouring vessels and the wood-framed covered dock.

The fire trapped seventeen people on the dock. In the process of attempting to escape, eight people died.

An estimated 4,000 gallons of fuel and lube oil were released, with the majority consumed during the fire. The value of Dock B and the 35 vessels destroyed was estimated at more than $500,000.

Probable cause
The NTSB has said 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.

The ignition source of the fire aboard the Dixie Delight could not be determined because of the scale of fire damage.

Considering the owner’s first-hand account and where he first saw flames, it is likely that the fire originated in the bulkhead between the vessel’s electrical panel and storage closet.

The fire spread due to the neighbouring vessels of similar fiberglass construction, an abundance of combustible lawn furniture on the vessel decks and open dock areas, and the presence of portable liquid propane cylinders used for barbecue grills, which all increased the dock’s fire load.

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.

Safety practices such as annual electrical inspections, employee fire training, biannual fire drills, and the development of a pre-fire plan with the fire department can better prepare marina staff and boat owners for a vessel or dock fire. In addition, a safety skiff, as recommended by guidelines, can be used by marina staff or first responders to assist in an emergency.

Lessons learned
– The close proximity of vessels in marinas can cause fires to spread quickly, preventing evacuation.
– Marina owners should assess their own operations, consult relevant fire safety guidance, and review fire plans in concert with local fire departments.
– Marina boat owners should familiarize themselves with their marina’s fire plan and review their vessels’ potential fire hazards and firefighting equipment.

Read the pdf report in full: NTSB-Fire-at-Jackson-County-Park-Marina

Read another NTSB article: NTSB releases mass of evidence on deadly Conception dive boat fire ahead of October hearing

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