Seal Beach Pier 1994 blaze blamed on short-circuit

Seal Beach Pier 1994 blaze blamed on short-circuit
A man walks along the beach as smoke billows from Seal Beach Pier after a fire broke out on May 21, 1994. (Alexander Garcia/Los Angeles Times)

Editor's note: This article from the May 23, 1994, Los Angeles Times described a fire two days earlier at Seal Beach Pier. Another fire today damaged the pier and destroyed the old Ruby's Diner at the end of the structure.

The investigation of a fire that temporarily trapped about 145 people on the city pier centered Sunday on electrical and other utility lines running beneath the wooden structure built in 1906, according to fire officials.


"There was a short in one of the lines that supplies power to the businesses at the end of the pier," Orange County Fire Capt. Dan Young said Sunday. He said the pier will be closed indefinitely.

Flames erupted about 3 p.m. Saturday from a 12,000-kilowatt electrical line under the pier. The fire then ran along the pier's old timbers, causing extensive damage to a 60-foot-long section and trapping visitors at the seaward end. It was the second electrical fire at the pier in two years.

Mayor Pro Tem Frank Laszlo said Sunday that the city carries insurance, but apparently its coverage has a $100,000 deductible. It's estimated the fire caused $350,000 damage, but that preliminary figure could increase.

"We still have to find out the damage beneath the pier, which has not been done yet," Laszlo said. "Then we'll get a full estimate and that's expected to be done by (today).

"It was an electrical fire again, and the last time it was electrical," he said. "The cause of the fire needs to be talked about. As for the reconstruction of the pier, maybe they both could be consolidated."

The City Council will discuss the pier fire tonight, Laszlo said.

On Sunday, passersby peppered firefighters and lifeguards with questions about when the popular pier will reopen.

"I thought they would fix it right away because of all the business they have at Ruby's (Diner) at the end of the pier," said Leah Notik of Long Beach, who visited the pier with her husband, Mendel, and the couple's two children. "We heard about the fire, but we thought the pier would be open and we wanted to eat at Ruby's."

We heard about the fire, but we thought the pier would be open and we wanted to eat at Ruby's.

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The fire destroyed an electrical transformer, knocking out electricity and telephone service to the diner and sport fishing shop at the pier's end.

With telephone service out, city lifeguard supervisor Adam J. Summers said Sunday that he dispatched two lifeguards who ran to the pier's midsection, dived off at the fire area and swam to the pier's end to help calm those who were caught.

"We didn't want people panicking," Summers said.

Meanwhile, rescue boats floated near the pier in case people had to be evacuated swiftly, Summers said. If necessary, helicopters would have been summoned, lifeguard officials said.


After waiting about two hours while firefighters extinguished the blaze, pier visitors were led to safety after sheets of plywood were laid over the charred area.

Orange County Fire Battalion Chief Kevin Brame said Sunday that the protective cover that shields the wooden pier from the elements also caused the thick black smoke, making it difficult for firefighters to combat the blaze.

It was the second electrical fire at the pier in two years. On May, 15, 1992, a wind-whipped fire on the old pier about 50 feet from Saturday's blaze destroyed the city's lifeguard tower.

Ironically, new wood had just been bought and trucked to the pier to refurbish the portions damaged two years ago.