TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) — Superstorm Sandy still isn't done with the Jersey shore — investigators are blaming the storm for damaging electrical wiring that touched off last week's devastating boardwalk fire in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights.
And they also said similar danger could be lurking elsewhere underneath other boardwalks, businesses or homes that were exposed to flood waters from the Oct. 29 storm.
"I'm sure on every boardwalk everywhere (at the Jersey shore), there may be compromised wiring," said Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato. "We don't want to start a panic mode; we just want to be reasonable. If you're a property owner and you think your electrical work came in contact with water and sand, we strongly recommend you have it inspected."
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.
Christie said Tuesday the state will let businesses affected by the fire postpone filing sales and use tax returns that were due this month until Oct. 21 to help them recover.
The boardwalk fire began accidentally Thursday in aged wiring that had been compromised by salt water and sand during the Oct. 29 storm, federal and county investigators said at a news conference Tuesday. The wind-whipped blaze destroyed more than 50 businesses in the two towns.
Seaside Heights Mayor William Akers, reached after the briefing, said there is no issue with potentially compromised wiring on the surviving sections of the boardwalk.
"We did a total rebuild. All 16 blocks got all new wiring," he said.
In Point Pleasant Beach, one of the approximately half-dozen Sandy-ravaged towns where businesses with electrical connections are located on the boardwalk, Mayor Vincent Barrella said streetlight wiring is all new in a section of the boardwalk that was rebuilt last winter.
But he said about half the boardwalk, including sections in front of businesses, still needs to be redone this winter. After the prosecutor issued his warning, Barrella said he instructed borough officials to work with the local electric company and identify any wiring that might need to be replaced as part of the upcoming work.
Flood-damaged wiring caused fires in several houses in Sandy-damaged communities once power was turned back on last November. Many homeowners had to replace their electrical wiring and main electrical boxes before moving back in.
Investigators said last week's fire began in wiring that dated to the 1970s, and was located under a Kohr's frozen custard stand and the Biscayne Candies shop last Thursday afternoon.
Jessica Gotthold, a senior special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said investigators located wires under the boardwalk that 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.
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.
Authorities even pulled financial records of the businesses involved in the blaze to make sure no one had a financial motive to start a fire.
"We left no stone unturned," he said. "This was not a suspicious fire."
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A Connecticut man who helped a priest sell methamphetamine has been sentenced to 27 months in prison.
Fifty-three-year-old Waterbury resident Kenneth DeVries was sentenced Tuesday in federal court in Hartford. He pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine.
DeVries has prostate cancer and had asked to be sentenced to time he'd already spent behind bars. He could've faced up to four years in prison.
Prosecutors say DeVries had a limited role in the conspiracy involving Monsignor Kevin Wallin, who's been nicknamed Monsignor Meth by media outlets.
Wallin pleaded guilty to a drug charge in April. He faces 11 to 14 years in prison.
DeVries has said he looked up to Wallin as a religious leader and someone who was supposed to help him.
WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. officials say a draft Defense Department audit criticizes one of the Navy's security review programs for lower level contractors. But that process was not the one used to evaluate the former reservist who gunned down 12 people Monday at the Washington Navy Yard.
Aaron Alexis, the 34-year-old information technology contractor involved in the shooting rampage, had a secret security clearance for his job. He went through a different, more extensive review.
The Defense Department Inspector General found that a separate system used to review some contractors did not properly vet the workers. That program is generally for contractors who don't have security clearances.
Officials described the audit on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss a draft report. He was granted the clearance in March 2008.