SEA ISLE CITY — “This was my driveway,” Molly Pierce said as she pointed to a patch of concrete now surrounded by the charred remnants of her beach house.

Little else survived after a massive fire ripped through the 7800 block of Pleasure Avenue the Friday before Easter destroying three properties and damaging to varying degrees 11 others.

“We were able to salvage the birdhouse,” Pierce said as she pointed to a small tree at the front of what was once her three-story beachfront home.

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The birdhouse was left by a previous owner, and it was all that she had managed to save after the seven-alarm fire demolished her home and two others along this residential street.

Cape May County Chief of Detectives Ken Super said the cause of the fire remained unknown as of Tuesday afternoon and interviews with witnesses were ongoing.

“I don’t think investigators have come to any conclusions so far,” he said.

While the investigation continues, Mayor Len Desiderio said Tuesday that the city is ready to do what it can to help the owners rebuild.

“We want to expedite the process and start issuing permits as soon as we can,” he said.

As she waited to meet with her insurance adjuster, Pierce said she was one of those ready to start from scratch.

Pierce, of Haverford, Pa., has owned a second home in Sea Isle for about 14 years and had converted her Pleasure Avenue home from a duplex to a single-family house three years ago.

“It was a beautiful beach house,” she said as she recalled family get-togethers at the shore.

She had planned to come down on Easter to open the house for the season when she heard about the blaze. A niece’s friend and a neighbor told her the story.

“My neighbor called and said, ‘I just saw your house go up (in flames),’” she said.

Pierce said she was in shock but especially grateful that no one was injured.

That sentiment was echoed by Lynn Rodriguez, another homeowner on this usually quiet block. A neighbor called her with news of her second home Friday.

“The house is gone,” he said as Rodriguez pulled over on the side of a road.

Each summer, the resident of Clarksboro, Gloucester County, rented the property out but still managed to come down on occasion to enjoy the views and beachfront living.

She expressed relief that the fire broke out on an April weekend and not at the height of summer when the block would have been filled with visitors.

The next day, she came down and police escorted her to the site.

“I was really shocked,” she said, but she said nothing irreplaceable was lost. “We have a lot of memories down there. You can’t get rid of memories.”

Rodriguez said she will likely rebuild her home, which had included three floors. She and another owner split the first floor, while she owned the second and the other person owned the third.

Her neighbors, she said, had come down for the weekend and managed to get out safely.

The co-owner of Rodriguez’s building and the owner of the third destroyed property, both from Pennsylvania, could not be reached for comment.

By Tuesday, the street was busy as insurance adjusters, repairmen and representatives of South Jersey Gas moved about the street and resident Doris Miles was ready to rebuild.

Her home, covered on one side with a blue tarp, was damaged when heat from the fire melted her vinyl siding.

The home has been in her family since 1955.

“I left about 10 minutes before the fire, and when I got to my son’s on the mainland I heard what was happening,” she said as she stood in her driveway.

Miles has already put in an insurance claim and was anxious to repair her home.

“I’m hoping it will be soon before the summer,” she said.

Contact Trudi Gilfillian:



Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.

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