Nearly a year after Hurricane Sandy devastated the Jersey Shore, a boardwalk that was just rebuilt was ravaged by fire on Thursday, as a blaze that began at an iconic ice cream shop quickly engulfed businesses along a stretch of beach in two towns.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the cause of the blaze was still unknown, The New York Times reported.
“We honestly have no idea,” Christie said at a news conference. “It is not even 24 hours since the fire started. We spent all of our time and resources on fighting the fire.”
Christie said three firefighters, who apparently fell from a National Guard truck, were seriously hurt, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
More than 400 firefighters from more than 30 towns in seven New Jersey counties battled the blaze, using water pumped in from a bay five blocks west.
Fire crews continued Friday to battle hot spots still smoldering a day after a massive fire ripped through a Jersey Shore town, destroying 80 percent of a boardwalk that was ravaged by Superstorm Sandy just a year ago.
“This is like a sucked punch,” Seaside park Business Administrator Robert Martucci told the Daily News.
“An unbelievable effort was made so that this town can come back. But for this to happen now is just inconceivable.”
Flames and black plumes of smoke shot high above the Boardwalk in Seaside Park, where the fire began after 2 p.m. Within hours, strong gusts of wind swept the fire north along the adjoining Boardwalk of Seaside heights, where a roller coaster had sat mangled in the ocean for months and became a symbol of the storm’s damage.
“We’re in trouble here. We’ve got major problems,” Seaside heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd told The Star-Ledger minutes after the fire broke out.
The cause of the fire, which Police Chief Francis Larken said started around 2:30 p.m. near Kohr’s Frozen Custard Shop on 1800 Boardwalk, has not been determined, though witness and radio dispatcher reports suggest it came from beneath the boardwalk.
“It’s just devastating to the area. It’s just heartbreaking to see” Larken said. “After what we just went through almost a year ago, and now this. I’m just in disbelief and shock over this. I can’t believe it,”
Christine Hemingway, who was working inside Kohr Brothers Frozen Custard stand Thursday, said it seemed as if the smoke rose from beneath the boardwalk, WCAU-TV, Philadelphia, said.
“The fire appears to be under control,” town administrator John Camera said late in the evening. “There’ll be people stationed there probably for another day or more and they expect that there may be controlled burning.”
With the fire contained, a team that includes local police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and representatives from the Ocean County prosecutor’s office as well as Camden County’s prosecutor’s office and Ocean County’s Fire Marshall is moving forward with its investigation of the fire. They have not been able to work at the actual scene because it is too hot still.
Local officials estimate the damage from the fire will be in the millions.
The Mathis Bridge, which connects Toms River to the Seaside area was closed to non-emergency vehicles, as of 5:30 p.m. Thursday, and remains closed Friday morning.
All roads leading into the area of Seaside Heights and Seaside Park are closed except to residents.
“The resiliency that was demonstrated before will be called upon again to rebuild this section of the town and the commerce on the boardwalk,” Seaside Park Mayor Bob Matthies said.
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