Last week's massive boardwalk fire in New Jersey began accidentally, the result of an electrical problem, an official briefed on the investigation said Tuesday.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak ahead of a 2 p.m. news conference at which investigators were to discuss their inquiry.
The fire Thursday started near a frozen custard stand in Seaside Park, and quickly spread north into neighboring Seaside Heights. More than 50 businesses in the two towns were destroyed.
It wrecked portions of the boardwalk that had only just recently been repaired from damage sustained in Superstorm Sandy. The ruined businesses included pizza shops, wheel-of-chance games and a seafood restaurant whose Facebook page on Friday read simply "R.I.P."
Also damaged were french fry stands, a fudge shop and bars, including one where Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi was punched in the face during filming of the first season of MTV's "Jersey Shore." Another bar wrecked by Sandy had not had the chance to reopen before being engulfed by flames.
The Funtown amusement pier was so badly damaged by Sandy it could not reopen this summer. It burned, too, with its "Funtown Pier" sign collapsing in a hail of flames and sparks.
Whipped by 20 to 30 mph winds, the flames raced northward despite the efforts of 400 firefighters to beat them back.
It was only by destroying part of the 5-month-old boardwalk that Seaside Heights had just spent $8 million to rebuild that the rest of the walkway was saved. Public works crews ripped out a 25-foot swath of boardwalk to serve as a makeshift fire break, depriving the blaze of fuel. They then filled the void with giant sand piles — makeshift dunes to hold back fire, not water.
The desperation plan worked and stopped the fire from burning the rest of the boardwalk.
Gov. Chris Christie's administration decided the state will use Sandy-recovery money to pay for debris removal. He also pledged $15 million in Sandy money to help rebuild the burned businesses.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC