Officials Say Seaside Boardwalk Fire Accidental, Caused By Energized Electrical Wiring

NJ Spotlight News | September 17, 2013 | Energy & Environment
Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato says an investigation has found the Seaside Boardwalk fire was accidental, caused by energized electrical wiring likely the result of effects of Hurricane Sandy.

By Lauren Wanko
NJ Today

The devastating Seaside Boardwalk fire was accidental and caused by energized electrical wiring under the Biscayne Candy store and Kohr’s Ice Cream building says Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato. And Superstorm Sandy played a crucial role in fueling the fire.

“A team is confident in complete consensus that the failure of the energized electrical equipment and wiring located under the boardwalk and sub-floor of the originating structures compromised by Sandy flood waters contributed to the fire,” Coronato said. “Present under the the boardwalk was pre-storm wiring in various sizes which included multiple electrical connections. During the storm, this wiring and these connections became fully submerged in salt water and subject to sand and wave action. Over time, degradation of this wiring and these connections occurred.”

Coronato believes the wiring was installed after 1970. The Ocean County Prosecutor says the wire could have failed on its own, but it was compromised by the Superstorm. The fire originated in an older section of the boardwalk that wasn’t rebuilt after Sandy.

“I think it’s inaccessible. Quite honestly it’s inaccessible. You’d have to tear down the entire building to get to the wire so I think that you’re gonna have to put some reason to the conclusion,” Coronato said.

At today’s press conference in Toms River, Cornota was asked if he believes other sections of the boardwalk could contain similarly compromised wiring that needs to be examined.

“I’m sure on every boardwalk everywhere all around that there may be compromise. We had a major storm that obviously wiring could be affected. Look, we’re not here to send a panic mode. That’s not the intent. We’re trying to be reasonable here and the reasonable alternative is this — if you are a property owner and you believe that your electrical system came in contact with water and sand, the right thing to do is to have it inspected by the electrical officials,” Coronato said.

The fire investigation task force arrived at their findings after 40 hours of examining the fire scene and reviewing pre- and post-scene photos and videos, examining possible financial motives, interviewing business owners and witnesses, analyzing fire scene mechanicals, and through what’s called “arc mapping.”

“We mark the areas where the wiring had a catastrophic failure due to them coming into contact with each other. So metal to metal contact sometimes will create a spark. In this instance, created an arc which then blows the wiring apart. And what it did was it guided us and built on the theory that we had, our hypothesis, that the fire was in this area,” said Jessica Gotthold, senior special agent for the ATF.

Cornato says local officials are establishing a plan to secure the fire scene from looters and keep the area safe.