A day after officials revealed the cause of last week’s devastating Seaside Boardwalk fire, other Jersey Shore communities are now worried about potential danger.
“There’s a clear and present danger with it and we already saw that last week,” said Atlantic City Fire Chief Dennis Brooks.
Officials announced on Tuesday that the boardwalk fire began accidentally last week in aged wiring that had been compromised by salt water and sand during Superstorm Sandy. The wind-whipped blaze destroyed more than 50 businesses in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights. According to investigators, the wiring dated back to the 1970s, and was located under the flooring of what was a Kohr’s frozen custard stand and the Biscayne Candies Shop.
Jessica Gotthold, a senior special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said investigators located wires under the boardwalk that somehow came in contact with each other, causing an electrical arc that is believed to have started the fire. Officials say those wires had been exposed to the storm surge and grating sand action of Sandy, which compromised them.
Investigators are now warning that a similar hazard could be lurking elsewhere underneath other Jersey Shore boardwalks, businesses or homes that were exposed to flood-waters from Sandy last year.
“I'm sure on every boardwalk everywhere (at the Jersey shore), there may be compromised wiring,” Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato said. “We don't want to start a panic mode; we just want to be reasonable. If you're a property owner and you think your electrical work came in contact with water and sand, we strongly recommend you have it inspected.”
Chief Brooks told NBC10 that despite numerous inspections since Sandy, it’s possible that there are still corroded wires underneath the Atlantic City boardwalk and other businesses.
“It’s time to really take a hard look at anything that was exposed to water,” Brooks said.
NBC10 found power lines under the AC boardwalk pier secured with staples that appeared to be rusted.
“I’m passing the word to public works and different agencies in Atlantic City,” Chief Brooks said. “Maybe we should give a re-inspection to some of our buildings and properties.”
Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian says the boardwalk in his community has also been inspected numerous times since Sandy. In light of the Seaside fire however, a letter is being sent to Ocean City boardwalk merchants and local landowners, urging them to have their wiring double-checked.
“What happened up in Seaside, we don’t want that happening here in Ocean City,” Mayor Gillian said.
Meanwhile, Seaside Heights Mayor William Akers claimed there was no issue with potentially compromised wiring on the surviving sections of the boardwalk.
“We did a total rebuild,” Mayor Akers said. “All 16 blocks got all new wiring.”
NBC10 found burnt wiring at the site where the fire began. There was also little space between the sand and the boardwalk, making the wires impossible to reach.
“I was here during it,” Seaside Park Borough Administrator Robert Martucci said. “I will tell you I can’t count the amount of times inspectors and inspections were up on the boardwalk.
While some Seaside business owners claim more should have been done after Sandy, Martucci says sub code inspectors worked diligently on inspections prior to last week’s fire.
“There was nothing I was ever made aware of and I’m sure if our inspectors thought there was anything that could be corrupted or might be a problem, it would have been taken care of,” Martucci said.
Field engineers with JCP&L, which supplies electricity to the region, conducted their own investigation into the corroded wires.
“It’s now reported to the board of public utilities that electrical wiring identified by investigators did not belong to JCP&L,” said Anthony Hurley, VP of Operations at JCP&L.
Joseph Woods, a homeowner in Seaside Park, says he’s nervous damaged wiring could lead to another catastrophe.
“You get another flood like that, you don’t know what could happen,” Woods said.
Gov. Chris Christie's administration decided the state will use Sandy-recovery money to pay for debris removal. He also pledged $15 million in Sandy money to help rebuild the burned businesses.
Christie said Tuesday the state will let businesses affected by the fire postpone filing sales and use tax returns that were due this month until Oct. 21 to help them recover.