Fire at a popular ice cream stand on the boardwalk of Seaside Park, N.J., broke out shortly after 2 p.m. and massive flames have spread to other oceanside businesses north of the original scene.
Firefighters are reportedly having difficulty battling the blaze because of high winds and water supply issues, according to radio dispatch in Ocean County. The fire started at Kohr's Frozen Custard, which has been a part of the popular boardwalk since the 1920s, but has since spread to adjacent businesses.
Firefighters from surrounding towns responded to the fire scene a couple blocks south of the Funtown Amusement Pier. Seaside Park Councilwoman Nancy Koury said about 32 businesses were destroyed. She says no serious injuries have been reported. Six blocks north of Funtown, a condominium complex was evacuated.
Koury says the fire quickly spread north into neighboring Seaside Heights.
Firefighters are still trying to get the raging fire under control as flames leap into the sky and thick plumes of smoke blanket the beachfront.
A total of six blocks of the boardwalk in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights to the north have been destroyed, officials said. The fire has been fanned by heavy wind gusts.
Seaside Park Mayor Robert Matthies is calling the catastrophe "the worst boardwalk fire I've ever seen in all my years."
In a news briefing in Seaside Park, Gov. Christie said: "We're going to continue to hold that line at Lincoln Avenue (in Seaside Heights) to make sure it (the fire) stops there. But the destruction south of Lincoln Avenue is complete."
The large blaze began several blocks south of one of the most iconic scenes of Hurricane Sandy, where a Casino Pier rollercoaster was found in the ocean just off the beach in the superstorm's wake last year.
"We're beginning to make a trench cut into this brand new boardwalk, sadly," one fire scene official said over emergency radio at 4 p.m.
By 4:30 p.m., reports indicated that Seaside Park officials estimated half of the boardwalk in that town was heavily damaged.
Christie tweeted at 5:30 p.m. that he was heading to Seaside Park. He arrived by 6:30 p.m. and talked with NBCNews anchor Brian Williams in a live interview from the scene.
"En route to Seaside now. Pls keep everyone in the surrounding areas, the firefighters & first responders fighting the blaze in ur prayers," he tweeted initially.
The Ocean County Prosecutor's office says traffic congestion from onlookers is impeding emergency response vehicles from reaching the area.
A popular boardwalk bar, Beachcomber Bar and Grill about four blocks north of the original fire, reportedly caught fire at about 5 p.m.
Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd said tar roofs and stiff winds helped fan the flames. He said a section of boardwalk was being removed to create a fire line to keep the blaze from spreading.
He said the fire created embers the size of a fist. Initial reports also indicated homes a couple blocks off the beach were in danger because of the windblown embers.
Authorities say several firefighters and residents were being treated for smoke inhalation. No other injuries were reported.
Fire supervisors evacuated all firefighters working on the boardwalk shortly before 4 p.m. and officials also evaucated nearby Funtown and Carousel piers, according to radio reports.
The huge plume of smoke from the fire could be seen several miles inland of the barrier island town in Toms River.
When she heard dozens of fire trucks whizzing past her home in the Pelican Island section of Berkeley Township, Susan Polcino said she crossed the bridge into Seaside Heights and witnessed crews trying to pull up sections of the boardwalk - some recently replaced - to stem the sire, but to no avail.
"The fire was coming so fast, they didn't get many of them up," Polcino said of the boards.
The scene was heartbreaking for the woman who has lived in the region most of her life.
"I'm sick to my stomach seeing this," said Polcino, 52. "I've never seen anything as horrible as this fire. It's so awful to see this after what this area has already been through with Sandy."
Polcino said the wind along the coast was "fierce" and continued to fan the massive blaze. A landmark club where she worked when she was in her '20s, Jack & Bill's, was gone.
"A friend of mine who lives here in Pelican Island who hasn't been able to move back into her house since the storm because of the damage was renting in Seaside. She just called to tell me she is being evacuated again because of the fire," Polcino said. "It's so sad."
Inquirer staff writer Jacqueline L. Urgo and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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.