Fire Marshal: Slaughter Beach blaze caused by home generator

SLAUGHTER BEACH — Town officials planned to meet Thursday night, one day after an accidental fire caused approximately $800,000 damage to three homes.

Vice Mayor Bob Wood said that while fire personnel can bring in tankers and suck water from the Delaware Bay, a lack of nearby fire hydrants remains problematic.

“We’ve discussed it many times,” Mr. Wood said. “There’s not enough water pressure here. If we wanted to redo the system it would be a massive project.

“You’d have to replace just about everything — some of these pipes are from the hotel days of the 1930s.”

Also, Mr. Wood said, “We understand how vulnerable we are. Luckily there were no winds yesterday that could have made it far worse than what actually happened (which was bad enough).”

While the Office of the State Fire Marshal attributed the fire’s cause to a generator on the home’s exterior in the 200 block of Bay Avenue, spokesman Michael G. Chionchio said on Thursday that the specific malfunction remained undetermined. Investigators were at the scene until 11 p.m. Wednesday and returned Thursday to continue the examination.

No injuries were reported and officials said residents were displaced from the residences that were rendered at least temporarily uninhabitable.

Mr. Wood said it was the town’s second generator-related fire in about 18 months. In the first one siding on a home was scorched, he said. About 90 percent of homes are wood framed with vinyl siding, heightening the potential danger of combustion.

“We’re going to talk about generators,” Mr. Wood said before the night meeting. “We’re town council members, not fire aficionados, so we need to gather more information.

“I have a friend with experience as a firefighter in Baltimore and I definitely want to contact him to learn more.”

Wednesday’s call to the Memorial Volunteer Fire Company came at 2:25 p.m. and units were dispatched.

According to town officials, approximately 12 fire companies were called to the scene.

“Those guys are volunteers and they do everything they can,” Mr. Wood said.

Mr. Wood said the town has an estimated 240 permanent residents and about half the homes in town are occupied full-time. The town’s population can swell to around 800 in the summer, he said.

On Christmas night 2017 in Slaughter Beach, two beachfront houses were destroyed in the 300 block of Bay Avenue, and three others were affected by the blaze. No serious injuries were reported.

More than a dozen fire companies from Kent and Sussex counties responded, from Little Creek to Rehoboth Beach. A lack of fire hydrants was noted during the response.

Investigators said at the time that damage was expected to exceed $500,000.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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