A fire that ripped through a community of riverboats along the Tennessee River in Alabama's Jackson County Park has been confirmed to have killed at least eight people, authorities confirmed

Scottsboro Fire Chief Gene Necklaus said the number of dead or missing are expected to climb. The number of people on the boats when the fire broke out remains unknown. 

“There were numerous people rescued from the water who had escaped by going into the water,” Jackson County Chief Sheriff's Deputy Rocky Harnen said in a statement. “We're trying to get divers down here to search for possible victims in the water.”

The fire reportedly broke shortly after midnight. First responders were called to the scene at approximately 12:30 a.m. The docked boats in Jackson County Park were part of a riverboat community where people maintained residence on their crafts. Safe routes of escape were cut off as the flames consumed the docks and the aluminum roof that was erected over many of the boats.

“We have some confirmed fatalities, but we don't have an exact number yet,” Harnen said. “We have several people who were taken to the hospital from being in the water, and some had minor burns.”

With no other safe means of escape, people resorted to jumping into the river to get away from the burning docks. Seven people recovered from the scene were taken to the hospital where they were treated for burns and possible hypothermia from the freezing water. All are reported to be in stable condition.

“We woke up hearing screams and popping noises,” Mandy Durham, who was staying on her boyfriend’s boat that night, said. “When we woke up, we could see red through the window. Within 15 to 20 minutes, the whole dock was in flames.”

At this stage, authorities are having difficulty accounting for all the residents and boats that had been at the dock. Necklaus said that divers will need to search all 35 of the sunken boats to find any more residents.

According to Harnen, debris had fallen on several of the crafts, causing them to sink or drift away down the river. Crews are also working to contain the spread of leaked fuel on the water.