August 11, 2020

Mom and her five children among dead after dock fire; they initially escaped to boat, which caught fire too

A woman and her five children were among the eight people who died in a dock fire at a north Alabama marina, authorities and relatives said.

Grace Annette Watson Miles, 40, was killed in the blaze early Monday, along with 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 told a news conference Wednesday.

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,” Jones said.

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.”

Authorities said the victims were living in boats at a large dock at Jackson County Park Marina, located on a wide creek that flows into the Tennessee River. The dock, which was equipped with electricity, had working fire extinguishers that were last inspected in October, Smith said.

Investigators who initially focused their attention on a single boat as a potential cause of the fire began concentrating on another vessel still in the water after a close examination of the first boat, Smith told reporters.

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.