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New Jersey Boardwalk Fire Linked To Sandy-Damaged Electrical Wiring

TOMS RIVER, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The massive fire that destroyed part of a Jersey shore boardwalk and scores of businesses began accidentally by wiring damaged during Hurricane Sandy, and should prompt coastal property owners to inspect their own wiring for similar danger, authorities said Tuesday.

The fire started accidentally in wiring dating back to the 1970s under a Kohr's frozen custard stand and the Biscayne Candies shop last Thursday afternoon, Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato said. It raged for eight hours in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights, destroying about 50 businesses over several blocks. Only minor injuries were reported.

Jessica Gotthold, a senior special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said a total of 27 investigators came to the conclusion that wires under the boardwalk somehow came in contact with each other, causing an electrical arc that is believed to have started the fire. Coronato said those wires had been exposed to the storm surge and grating sand action of the storm, which compromised them.

New Jersey Boardwalk Fire Linked To Sandy-Damaged Electrical Wiring

"Not only is age involved, we also know that there was a storm, and it's very clear that water and sand affected this particular area of the boardwalk," Coronato told reporters, including WCBS 880's Marla Diamond.

But as far as why the wires contacted each other, he said, "We will never know.''

The prosecutor said the investigation ruled out all other possible causes of the fire, including careless smoking or a deliberate act of arson. The wiring was inaccessible to the public, he noted. Coronato stopped short of assigning blame for the wires not being inspected after Sandy, CBS 2's Cleve Bryan reported.

"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.

Authorities even pulled financial records of the businesses involved in the fire to make sure no one had a financial motive to start a fire.

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," he said.

PHOTOS: Massive Fire Strikes Sandy-Hit Jersey Shore

Among the iconic venues that were damaged or destroyed in the fire were the Funtown Amusement Pier, the Carousel Arcade, Kohr's Frozen Custard, Jack & Bill's, and Maruca's Pizza.

Gov. Chris Christie's administration said the state will use Sandy-recovery money to pay for debris removal at the scene to speed the rebuilding process.

Christie has also pledged $15 million from Sandy recovery money to the burned businesses. But some homeowners slammed by Sandy said they feel slighted, adding they still have not received their aid.

"I do want the boardwalk to be restored, but I just think there needs to be a sense of priorities and to make sure your homeowners, your communities, your families, your children are back in their homes and then, you know, worry about the boardwalk," said resident Sandra Lazzano.

One official said they're able to act faster with this disaster because unlike flooding, fires fall under the control of the state.

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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