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Saltwater damage from Sandy to blame for Jersey blaze: official

New Jersey firefighters arrive to control a massive fire in Seaside Park in New Jersey September 12, 2013. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
New Jersey firefighters arrive to control a massive fire in Seaside Park in New Jersey September 12, 2013. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

By Dave Warner

TOMS RIVER, New Jersey (Reuters) - The fire that destroyed six blocks of boardwalk and damaged as many as 30 businesses in two New Jersey shore towns was the result of wires damaged during flooding from last year's Superstorm Sandy, the official who led a probe of the blaze said on Tuesday.

Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato blamed the fire, which broke out last Thursday, on an electrical problem beneath the boardwalk in Seaside Park. The fire eventually burned its way north to neighboring Seaside Heights from its starting point beneath a frozen custard stand and a candy shop.

"The only possible heat source present is the failure of energized electrical wiring," Coronato told a press conference. "During the storm, this wiring and these connections became fully submerged in salt water and subject to wave and sand action."

The air in Seaside Park remained acrid on Tuesday, despite stiff breezes. Gawkers strolled along a chain link fence put up to keep onlookers out of the damaged area.

The investigation into whether the fire was a result of any criminal activity, is now over, Coronato said.

"The fire investigation team, with the help of electrical engineers, fire analysts and four accelerant detection dogs eliminated all possible competent heat sources, including improperly discarded smoking materials, any human involvement and eliminated all other heat sources," he said.

Investigators also interviewed business owners and witnesses to examine any possible financial motives for starting a fire, Coronato said. They came away convinced that the electrical issue caused the blaze.

Sandy, the second-costliest storm in U.S. history after Hurricane Katrina, devastated the New Jersey coast. The state estimated its damage at $37 billion.

(Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

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