Fire ravages boardwalk at Seaside Park and Seaside Heights
SEASIDE PARK, N.J. - A fire that apparently began in an ice cream shop in Seaside Park on Thursday afternoon and swiftly consumed several blocks of the boardwalk that connects the Shore town and neighboring Seaside Heights, as well as buildings along the walkway, was finally brought to heel about 8 in the evening.
Officials said at least 20 businesses along the boardwalk were destroyed or heavily damaged in the wind-whipped blaze, including familiar institutions such as Maruca's Pizza; the Carousel Arcade; and the clubs Jack & Bill's, Beachcomber, and Sawmill. as well as a Kohr's frozen custard stand - where the fire apparently began.
Hundreds of firefighters were involved, and officials said two had to be treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.
"I can't believe after all we went through . . . it's heartbreaking, devastating," said Seaside Park Police Chief Francis Larkin, referring to the devastation left in the area a year ago by Hurricane Sandy. "I think I'm going to wake up and it'll be a bad dream."
In a 10 p.m. briefing, Ocean County Fire Coordinator Brian Gabriel called the four boardwalk blocks that burned "a war zone." He said that the fire was 70 percent contained, with no threat of it spreading, but that firefighters continued to douse hot spots.
Gabriel said 300 to 400 firefighters from every department in Ocean County as well as departments from Atlantic, Cape May, Mercer, and Monmouth Counties were deployed.
The speed with which the flames engulfed the boardwalk, fanned by 30 m.p.h. winds, presented a major challenge. Firefighters dug two trenches ahead of the fire to try to stop it. The second, at Lincoln Avenue, eventually held the flames.
Several buildings collapsed and a condominium sustained minor roof damage, resulting in evacuations, he said.
Seaside Park Mayor Robert Matthies called the catastrophe "the worst boardwalk fire I've ever seen in all my years."
In a news briefing in Seaside Park before the conflagration was brought under control, Gov. Christie noted the strenuous efforts made to rebuild the area from Sandy's blows a year ago and said when he heard of the fire, he exclaimed to his staff, "I feel like I want to throw up."
Seaside Park's boardwalk was not as badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy as Seaside Heights', though the storm did extensively damage its Funtown Pier.
On Thursday, the amusement pier again bore the brunt, this time of fire.
The spot where the fire apparently started - Kohr's Frozen Custard - also was gone.
Lee Maniscalco, 43, who walked what remained of the boardwalk with his wife, Andrea, late Thursday, noted that he was a friend of the Kohr's owner, who he said was himself a volunteer firefighter.
"I feel for him. . . . After all the blood, sweat, and tears that people put into rebuilding, we were all holding our breath for another hurricane. No one expected this," he said.
Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog "Downashore," at inquirer.com/downashore. Follow on Twitter @JacquelineUrgo.