The frightening fire that broke out at the Beachwood Shopping Center at the height of Hurricane Sandy was a blaze that Bayville Volunteer Fire Company members would like to forget.
Transformers exploded and blew. The wind funneled the flames away from the water. Firefighters couldn't get too close because of metal and debris whirling through the air. They had to lay fire hoses from the Roy Rogers restaurant across Route 9.
"That wind was coming across so hard," said Township Council President James J. Byrnes, who was on the scene. "Debris was flying all over the place. I got the hell out of there."
Although plans had been in the works to condemn the property, the fire was apparently the last straw for Fire Official Jack Wiegartner.
He ordered owner Priscilla Oughton to take a number of corrective actions immediately, including vacating the shopping center, removing the structures, demolishing the structures and removing all debris.
Eight fire code violations found
Oughton - the daughter of the late James E. Johnson, who built the plaza decades ago - can appeal the violations with the Ocean County Construction Board of Appeals, Byrnes said.
"She has the right to appeal just like anybody else," Byrnes said. "She can rebuild it and bring it up to code, but that's not going to happen."
So far, township officials have not heard from Oughton, who lives in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea in Florida, he said.
If she does not notify Berkeley of any plans to appeal the violations or correct them, she will face up to $5,000 a day in fines, according to Wiegartner's letter.
"You are hearby ordered by the fire official to correct the violations listed on the accompanying "Violations Report" with the time, or by the date specified," he said in the letter to Oughton.
Oughton will also be liable for the costs of any fire suppression, if a violation directly or indirectly results in a fire, the letter states.
"The building was unsafe to enter," Bayville Volunteer Fire Company Chief Kenneth Anderson said shortly after the fire. "It looked like the Fourth of July."
Wiegartner outlines eight violations of the Uniform Fire Code in the letter. They include:
• Ceiling roof collapse on the entire premises
• Openings in walls ready to collapse.
• Broken glass in front of all the stores.
• Entire front of structure falling down
• Sinkholes in shopping center parking lot.
• Building is not secured
• Abandon premises, building declared unsafe and abated by demolition.
• Hazardous electrical conditions arising from improperly used electrical wiring.
Berkeley officials rejoiced in July when the State Planning Commission gave its long-sought okay to the township's massive redevelopment plan.
The plan approval meant that Donato Donofrio - the redeveloper of record - was free to iron out a cleanup agreement with the owner of the dilapidated Beachwood Shopping Center and get started on the redevelopment.
But nothing materialized after the state approval.
Estimates to clean up the asphalt plant behind the defunct shopping center, remove asbestos from the buildings and raze the site have ranged as high as $50 million, Amato said.