Fire rips through houseboat marina leaving eight dead

At least eight people have died after a blaze tore through at least 35 boats moored at a Tennessee River marina in Alabama, USA on Monday.

Eyewitnesses say people were forced to lead into the water to avoid the flames, which reportedly began shortly after midnight as people living in the boats were sleeping.

The flames spread rapidly and cut off many escape routes after they burned through the wooden dock and collapsed an aluminium roof covering most of the boats.

  • Drone footage shows the scale of destruction in the marina

Local resident Tommy Jones managed to survive but lost his brother during the incident.

"We didn't have time to do nothing," he said.

Jones said he was aboard his cabin cruiser when someone banged on his door and warned him of the fire. He said he and several other men cut some boats free, including one loaded with a small family, before jumping into the water and swimming 200 yards to shore.

He looked back while swimming only to see another boat - with children on board - "engulfed in flames".

One of the destroyed boats. Credit: AP

At least seven people were sent to hospital, some suffering from exposure and others from burns.

Julie Jackson, who lives in a houseboat in a nearby dock that did not catch fire, said: "The worst thing for me is you could hear people screaming for help and there was nothing we could do."

Scottsboro Fire Chief Gene Necklaus said the number of dead could rise "because we don't know how many were on (the) boats" that sank.

He said divers needed to locate each one and search them individually before they could rule out other victims.