The Ocean County Prosecutor's Office says an electrical problem partially created by Superstorm Sandy is to blame for Thursday's fire on the boardwalk in Seaside Park and Seaside Park.

Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronado
Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronado (WPVI TV)

At a Tuesday afternoon press conference Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coranado says the investigative team has concluded the fire started under the boardwalk in Seaside Park at Kohr's and the Biscayne Candy Shop.


Electrical wiring was "compromised" by sand and water from Superstorm Sandy in a "completely inaccessible" area under an older part of the boardwalk. It was under salt water and sand for some time after Sandy and became exposed causing it to spark. "You have to tear down the entire building to get to the wire," Coronato said. "I believe it's inaccessible."

"Over the years the sand has come through there, it has built up under the boardwalk," Coronato adds.

There was no human involvement in the fire nor is any other heat source to blame. But as far as why the wires contacted each other, he said, "we will never know." Coronato said the wiring was originally from the 70's , and was especially vulnerable after being submerged during the storm.

"We also know that not only is age involved, we also know there was a storm, and it's very clear water and sand affected this particular area of the boardwalk."

"The team is in complete consensus that a failure of energized electrical equipment and wiring located under the board walk and sub floor of the originating structures compromised by Sandy flood waters contributed to the fire," said Coronado.

Coronado says the wiring should serve as a reminder to home owners along the shore to have their own electrical system checked and upgraded.

Senior Special Agent Jessica Gotthold from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives says the damage to the wires likely caused them to short out right under the frozen custard stand and candy shop.

"Some metal to metal contact will sometimes create a spark. In this instance is created an arc which then blows the wiring apart."

Scott Surgeoner a spokesman for FirstEnergy, the parent company of Jersey Central Power and Light said after the press conference that they were never asked to participate in the original investigation to the boardwalk fire. "However, Jersey Central Power and Light will begin an immediate investigation and work with state, county and local officials to confirm ownership of the cable referred to today and determine the cause of the fire," they said.

Map showing area on boardwalk where the fire started
Map showing area on boardwalk where the fire started (Ilya Hemlin, Townsquare Media NJ)

The task force, made up of 27 investigators and four accelerant detection K9 dogs, reviewed pre and post-scene photos and videos, interviewed business owners, investigated possible financial motives for a fire and analyzing fire scene debris.

Prosecutor Coronato said, “Though our investigative work has concluded the stricken area and business owners will not be abandoned. Local officials have assured me that they will establish a plan to secure the site from looters and to preserve the safety of others.”



More Help From Trenton

Governor Christie, meanwhile, continued his efforts to help afftected businesses to get back on their feet from the fire by allowing them to postpone filing sales and use tax returns, making regularly scheduled payments that would have been due in September on the quarterly return date of October 21 without any penalty.

“We are providing immediate help to businesses in the fire-damaged area by giving them extra time before they have to make scheduled tax payments or file returns,” said Governor Christie. “This will help them get back on their feet and back in operation as quickly as possible.”

The task force was made up of members from the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office - Arson Unit, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the New Jersey State Police, the New Jersey State Fire Marshal's Office, the New Jersey State Fire Marshal's Office - Canine Unit, the Ocean County Sheriff's Department - Criminal Investigations Unit, the Ocean County Sheriff's Department - Canine Unit, the Ocean County Fire Marshal's Office, the Seaside Park Police Department, the Seaside Heights Police Departmen, the Toms River Township Police Department, the Berkeley Township Police Department, the Manchester Township Police Department, the Ocean County Road Department and the Ocean County Bridge Department.

Ilya Hemlin and the Associated Press contributed to this report

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