ATLANTIC CITY- City fire officials set the damage estimate for an early-morning apartment fire here that left 22 people homeless at about $1.5 million.

Fire Battalion Chief Michael Mooney said engineers must now decide whether the structure - which involved 12 apartments in two units - must be torn down.

The cause remains under investigation, he said.

The blaze began at about 1:45 a.m. in the 100 block of N. Annapolis Ave., in the Lower Chelsea section of the city. The apartments are located along the Inside Thoroughfare Waterway, making it difficult for firefighters to put out the fire.

Mooney said a fire boat would have helped - an expense city government has deemed unnecessary in the past.

"We only had two access ways into building, through the front door and from the water, and without a fire boat we couldn't attack it from the water," Mooney said. "Lower Township (Cape May County) has three fire boats, and Atlantic City has none."

It took firefighters three hours to put out the fire.

Mooney said the cause of the fire doesn't look suspicious.

"The cause could be as simple as a discarded cigarette, but the fire remains under investigation," he said.

No one was injured.