The failure of electrical wiring impacted by Superstorm Sandy floodwaters created a “catastrophic event” responsible for sparking the massive blaze that ripped through a four block portion of the boardwalk that runs through Seaside Park and Seaside Heights, officials announced today.
In addition to reviewing photographs and videos, interviewing business owners and witnesses, and examining potential financial motives, Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato said an investigative task force from his office analyzed fire scene debris and mapped the point of origin.
“The scene examination revealed fire damage consistent with the fire originating under the structure that housed both Biscayne Candies and the Kohr’s Ice Cream stand,” Coronato said. “The fact that the area under the structure is completely inaccessible assisted in the investigate team findings.” His office officially declared the fire as accidental and the criminal investigation is over.
Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Special Agent Jessica Gotthold was on hand to help explain how investigators were able to determine the fire’s origin.
“What we do is we look for areas of catastrophic failures due to [wires] being energized, and when they arc, the metal comes in contact with metal, and there’s a significant event — sometimes a spark, this time an arc — and what that does is blows the wiring apart. And that is due to the ensuing fire impacting on those, that wiring.”
The fire mapping “guided us and built on our theory as to where the fire originated,” Gotthold said.
When Superstorm Sandy hit last October it pushed seawater into areas that are normally dry. So, when salty water soaked the underside of the boardwalk it became a deadly mix.
John Destasio, a certified marine wiring expert, said that even a pinhole-sized crack in cable insulation could cause serious problems if salt water enters the cable’s jacket.
“With marine corrosion, when you put a metal element carrying current in an electrolyte (in a battery sulfuric acid, in this case saltwater), it expedites the corrosion of said metal,” he said. “When you corrode copper, it increases its electrical resistance. As you increase the resistance, you gain heat. This theoretical endless up-scaling over time can melt or break down the insulative jacket found on the wiring.”