Sea Isle Residents Call for Safety Measures in Wake of Recent Fires

Posted on Wednesday, May 01st

Residents are urging Sea Isle City’s governing body to consider tighter building restrictions and fire-retardant construction materials in the aftermath of the third major house fire in 17 months, including one that killed an elderly woman.

The most recent fire destroyed two adjacent bayfront duplexes on 75th Street on Easter morning, prompting residents to appear at City Council’s April 23 meeting to question whether more measures are needed to protect public safety.

“We need to do something. Do we need to lose another life?” one resident, Antimo Ferrilli, pointedly asked the Council members.

Ferrilli, a member of Sea Isle’s planning board, stressed that the city should seriously consider requiring fire-retardant or non-combustible materials in home construction. He said City Council has not yet responded to a letter from the planning board formally requesting fire-retardant materials.

In an interview after the meeting, Council President Jack Gibson said he was not aware of any such letter.

The Easter fire on April 21 at 75th Street followed a fire on Nov. 29, 2018, that destroyed three adjacent duplexes on 54th Street and killed an 89-year-old woman who lived in one of the homes. Prior to those fires, a blaze on Nov. 24, 2017, destroyed three adjacent beachfront homes on Pleasure Avenue.

“People are scared. That’s a lot of homes to burn down on a small island in such a short period of time,” Alice Utkus, a resident of 65th Street, told the Council members.

Another resident, former Sea Isle Councilman John Divney, called for a public review of the fires.

“Why do they happen? Divney asked.

The causes of the Easter fire and the one in November 2018 have not yet been released by authorities. Investigators were unable to determine the cause of the blaze in November 2017.

The Council members praised Sea Isle City’s volunteer fire department for its efforts to protect the community.

“I think they do an outstanding job,” Gibson said of the volunteer firefighters in the interview after the Council meeting.

Gibson said he sees no current need for the city to switch to a professional fire department in place of the volunteers. But as Sea Isle “matures,” a professional fire department “is something that should receive consideration,” he added.

Gibson noted that a professional fire department would likely add millions of dollars to the city’s operating costs.

“It would be a tremendous burden on the taxpayers,” he said.

In public remarks during the Council meeting, some residents said homes are too densely packed together in Sea Isle, allowing fires to easily spread from one house to another. They wondered whether the city’s zoning laws should be changed to require more space between homes.

Lynne Shirk, a resident of 54th Street, suggested that condominiums should be built with stronger fire walls to help contain the infernos.

Toni Grdinich, a homeowner at 8308 Pleasure Avenue, said Atlantic City Electric needs to warn Sea Isle residents about another fire danger, the possibility of corroded wires. She urged residents to have their wires inspected.

Grdinich said a fire nearly started at her home when a utility worker cut a corroded wire, causing it to smolder and melt.

Thanking the residents for their suggestions, Gibson promised that the city would publicly share whatever it can from the investigation of the recent fires in hopes of improving safety.

“I think all of the things that were mentioned are tools to be considered to prevent multiple fires,” Gibson said in the interview after the meeting.

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