By Maddy Vitale
An early morning fire that destroyed two duplexes and damaged a third at 48th Street and Central Avenue on Dec. 27 began in a kitchen, but the cause remains undetermined, Ocean City Fire Chief Jim Smith said Thursday.
Fire investigators from Ocean City, Margate, Cape May County and the state conducted the investigation and determined the fire broke out at 4829-4831 Central Ave. No injuries were reported.
“Our job is to find where it started. It was a ground floor kitchen. Everyone thought it started in the middle duplex, but it didn’t,” Smith explained. “We were able to pinpoint the fire to the kitchen. We can’t say whether it was an appliance. We were unable to determine the heat source.”
The home where the fire began sustained less damage than the middle property, 4835-4837 Central Ave. Smith said that was because it was mostly wood, built in 1990. The newer home had vinyl siding. Smith explained that wood burns slower than vinyl.
Chris Cashman was the owner of one of the middle duplexes. The morning of the fire, he and his friend, Denise D’Andrea, viewed the devastation and spoke with Smith. Cashman said he only owned the property since 2015, but had a lot of good memories there.
On Thursday, all that remained of Cashman’s duplex was an empty lot and charred debris.
Shortly after the fire, Ocean City’s Code Enforcement Officer Neil Byrne ordered that the unsafe structures were to come down. Smith noted that the homeowners are now dealing with their insurance companies.
On New Year’s Day the cleanup began.
Rocco Gagliano, an employee of demolition contractor Reuter Construction, based in Marmora, picked up piles of charred rubble and metal and tossed them into a large dumpster Thursday.
“We started the cleanup on New Year’s Day,” Gagliano said. “They asked me if I wanted to work and I said, ‘Sure.’ I think the mayor set it up.”
Gagliano stood on top of the massive pile of debris and said, “It’s a good thing it wasn’t summer time. I rather clean up from a vacant house. You can let houses go but you can’t replace life – not people or your pets.”
The Ocean City Fire Department responded to multiple calls reporting a structure fire on the 4800 block of Central Avenue at 3:20 a.m. Dec. 27.
Firefighters from Fire Station 3 arrived in just 90 seconds, but the fires were already raging and fully engulfing the structures. Flames shot through the roofs, Smith said.
The blaze also badly damaged a third duplex next door.
On Thursday, Mike Corvasce, whose family owns the third duplex, located at 4839-4841 Central Ave., checked on their home.
“My family has owned it for more than 20 years,” he said.
It sustained damage from the heat of the fire and it appeared the vinyl siding melted. There was also water and smoke damage on one side.
Corvasce said his family is waiting to hear what is to become of the home.
“We are trying to figure it all out and evaluating the situation,” he said.
He added that he and his family are thankful there were no injuries.
Smith said there were several issues with the fire. The first, and most important one, he said, was a major delay in notifying the Fire Department of the blaze.
He said it definitely hindered the Fire Department’s ability to fight the fire, get it under control and save properties.
“The delay of notification was the most major impact on this fire. A neighbor heard noises at 1:30 a.m., thinking there was construction going on. It woke her up. It is not normal for construction to be going on at that time,” Smith explained. “The construction she thought she heard was the fire growing. This was two hours prior to 911 being called and the fire was getting bigger and bigger.”
He said it is vital that people report any unusual activity to authorities as soon as possible.
“The police department is excellent in this town,” Smith said. “They are out on patrol. Between the police and fire, we will come out and investigate the issues and concerns you have.”