A cigarette is being blamed for Friday's fire at the Mariner's Cove Inn in Point Pleasant, but outdated regulations could have contributed to the deaths of four people and injuries to eight others.

Fire at Marina Cove Motor Inn in Point Pleasant Beach (Ocean County Prosecutor's Office)
Fire at Marina Cove Motor Inn in Point Pleasant Beach (Ocean County Prosecutor's Office)

The motel, which has operated since 1985, predates the modern sprinkler regulations that hotels, motels, and bed-and-breakfasts are now required to have. That's according to David Kurasz, executive director of the New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board.

Kurasz said hotels with interior egresses, rooms that lead into indoor hallways, were only required to have sprinkler systems installed starting in the '90s.

"If you were an exterior hotel, like (the Mariner's Cove Inn) was, you were roughly the year 2000 that if you were permitted after that, then you would have had to install fire sprinklers," Kurasz said.

Officials confirmed the fire originated on the second floor of the structure. They strongly believe that a piece of furniture caught fire from the cigarette, starting the blaze.

While the owners of the Mariner's Cove Inn would not have been responsible for installing sprinklers when the building was built, Kurasz said they also wouldn't be responsible for retrofitting, since that is only mandated when a certain amount of renovations are completed.

"A lot of times designers or remodelers go out of their way to make sure that they don't hit those thresholds," Kurasz said.

In addition to a lack of sprinklers in general, Kurasz also said buildings of that age wouldn't be required to have hardwired sprinkler systems.

"At that point, you're just relying on battery-operated smoke detectors that you people change during daylight savings time," he said.

Kurasz said that while battery-operated smoke detectors are just as effective as centrally wired ones, they don't operate as a unit, causing units not to signal until the smoke is right next to them -- rather than alerting the entire facility when there is a fire.

"People don't realize how quick a fire starts and how quick it travels and spreads," Kurasz said. "You have so much less time than you think you do in a fire situation. You have seconds, and it's not 'let me grab my things or let me do this.'"

He noted a combination of aging buildings and wiring, densely packed shore communities, and persistent winds from the water could cause more fires like the ones in Seaside and Point Pleasant. He advises families to always look for accommodations with preventative fire safety measures.

"When you go into a hotel, the first thing you do is look up and see if there are fire sprinklers," Kurasz said. "If you don't see fire sprinklers, look up and see if you have a smoke alarm. You can usually test it right then and there to see if it works. If none of those are there, I would either leave or ask for batteries for the alarm."