Officials Begin to Investigate Cause of Massive Boardwalk Fire

September 13, 2013 | Energy & Environment
The Ocean County Prosecutor's Office is handling the investigation into what caused a huge fire that destroyed dozens of businesses and sections of the Seaside Boardwalk.

By Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor
NJ Today

Collapsed structures and other charred remains are evidence of the devastating fire that ravaged a stretch of the Seaside Park boardwalk. The entire area is being treated as a crime scene, but the governor says it’s too early to determine if the fire is suspicious.

“It’s always treated as a crime scene because we don’t know what happened, so we’re gonna preserve evidence, we’re gonna let the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office lead the investigation with the others we spoke about,” Gov. Chris Christie said.

Authorities wouldn’t say what clues they’ll be looking for, but they did acknowledge several factors that may have caused the fire to spread quickly.

“Probably the biggest difficulty was, if you were here yesterday and you saw 30-mile winds, you could see exactly how the fire was just spreading,” said Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato. “The boardwalk which is wood. And the other thing is the buildings are very old. So as a result of it, it’s a tough combination.”

Not much is left of the boardwalk. Much of it had just been rebuilt quickly after it was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy.

When asked if he had any concerns that an expedited process for permits could have contributed to the fire, Coronato said, “I don’t think that’s an issue at this time. Of course, during an investigation you don’t eliminate anything, everything’s on the table.”

A fire of this magnitude required hundreds of firefighters and an extraordinary amount of water, much of it pumped from Barnegat Bay.

“When you’ve got five to seven aerials pumping water in, you’ve got so many hoses, even if you had a perfect water supply, you’re going to drain it down to where there’s not too much water,” said Seaside Police Chief Thomas Boyd. “No you gotta remember Sandy put a lot of sand into our water system, so some of the pipes may be half full, half empty, who knows.”

“We had a heavy, heavy fire load, so let’s not start spreading rumors that the water system was bad because it was not. We utilized every available resource. It worked,” said Ocean County Fire Chief Coordinator Brian Gabriel.

The blaze destroyed virtually everything in its path, including a utility pole. Utility crews were out today making repairs and surveying the damage. Fire crews were preparing to leave this afternoon, but investigators are expected to be on site for some time.