By Cleve Bryan
TOMS RIVER, N.J. (CBS/AP) — Authorities say a massive boardwalk fire in New Jersey was accidental and they have linked it to electrical wiring and equipment they say was compromised by Superstorm Sandy nearly a year ago.
The announcement was made Tuesday, five days after the fire destroyed more than 50 boardwalk businesses in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights. (See Related Story)
The emotions can still be overwhelming.
“Well I was just praying that it wasn’t going to…excuse me,” Anthony Villanella, boardwalk visitor said.
If there is any consolation it came Tuesday afternoon when fire investigators put to rest speculation arson was to blame. Instead a familiar cause of pain – Superstorm Sandy.
They say the fire was the result of a failure of electrical equipment and wiring under the boardwalk and subfloor compromised by Sandy floodwaters.
“During the storm the wiring and these connections became fully submerged in salt water and became subject to sand and wave action contrary to their intended use. Over time, degradation of this wiring and these connections occurred,” Joseph Coronato, Ocean County Prosecutor said.
A team of 27 investigators came to the unanimous conclusion that corroded wiring ignited underneath a structure on the ocean side of the boardwalk.
Investigators say the fire started under a building that housed a candy store and an ice cream stand.
“This is the remains of the Kohrs Ice Cream store and Biscayne Candies. This is the kind of debris that the investigators had to go through in order to come up with our findings,” Thomas Haskell, Ocean County arson investigator said.
Officials say because of the location it would have been impossible for any person to start the fire. Prosecutor Joseph Coronato stopped short of assigning blame for the wires not being inspected after Sandy.
The equipment had been inaccessible since Sandy struck in late October.
“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 going to have to put some reason to the conclusion here,” Coronato said.
Coronato finished the investigation report with a warning to everyone flooded during Sandy.
“If you’re 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.”
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