Ocean County, N.J., investigators say that faulty electrical wiring caused the wind-swept fire that destroyed more than 50 businesses along the Jersey Shore's iconic boardwalk on Sept. 12. Corrosive saltwater and sand from Superstorm Sandy, which destroyed the same boardwalk 11 months ago, "defected" the wiring, which was in a "totally inaccessible" area of the boardwalk, investigators note.
Joseph D. Coronato, Ocean County prosecutor, announced the findings on Sept. 17 and said the blaze, which originated in Seaside Park and spread several blocks to Seaside Heights, was accidental. After 40 "exhaustive" hours of examining the fire scene, a team of 27 investigators is "confident and in complete consensus that the failure of energized electrical equipment and wiring located under the boardwalk and subfloors of the original structures were compromised by Sandy flood-waters and contributed to the fire," Coronato said.
He advised businesses and homeowners to get all electrical systems that were submerged in the storm inspected and replaced, if necessary. The news followed Gov. Chris Christie's announcement to use $15 million in Sandy relief funds to aid recovery efforts from the fire.
News of the blaze reminded some industry professionals of similar occurrences after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. "We went through a big exercise [in evaluating how to handle submerged equipment] when Katrina hit," says Michael Johnson, executive director for standards and safety at the National Electrical Contractors Association, Bethesda, Md.
Johnson, who was not involved in the investigation and would not comment on its findings, says the National Electrical Manufacturers Association is a good source for guidance: Its website offers for free download a document titled "Evaluating Water-Damaged Electrical Equipment."