A wind-driven blaze consumed a New Jersey Shore boardwalk and amusements freshly rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy, destroying dozens of businesses.
The fire swept through at least six blocks of Seaside Park and Seaside Heights, turning more than 30 buildings to cinders. Crews were forced to draw water from Barnegat Bay, a quarter- mile away, Governor Chris Christie said at the scene late yesterday.
The boardwalk, which gained fame as the setting for MTV’s “Jersey Shore” reality show, suffered heavy damage in October from Sandy, one of the costliest Atlantic storms in U.S. history. The Jet Star roller coaster, flung into the ocean, became a symbol of the storm’s strength. The boardwalk reopened in May, just before the Memorial Day start of the shore’s tourism season.
Four hundred fighters were on the scene from throughout the state, Christie told reporters. The towns are about 80 miles (130 kilometers) south of New York City.
Christie, 51, a Republican, has staked his re-election in November on his handling of the Sandy recovery. He viewed the scene with officials including the state fire marshal and Richard Constable, head of the community affairs department.
When he received word of the fire’s size, Christie told reporters, he said to aides: “I feel like I want to throw up.” A New Jersey native, Christie has said he enjoyed bringing his wife and four children to experience the rides and arcades of his youth.
Christie said he felt sick “after all the effort and time and resources” put into the shore’s recovery. He has estimated the cost of reconstruction and fortification statewide at $36.9 billion.
Anything that wasn’t destroyed at Fun Town Pier by Sandy was leveled by the fire, said Seaside Park Mayor Bob Matthies.
“Gone,” said Matthies, 65. He called the fire “demoralizing.”
The blaze was reported at 2:15 p.m. local time in the southernmost building of the Seaside Park boardwalk, the mayor said. Video posted online showed smoke billowing from a Kohr’s frozen-custard stand.
Authorities issued an “all-call,” meaning every available crew in Ocean County was to report to the scene, according to Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the county prosecutor’s office.
When the governor arrived, there were “dozens and dozens of firefighters working like crazy, to exhaustion” against the fire, Christie said.
Wind gusts were reported at 30 to 40 miles per hour (48 to 64 kilometers per hour) in advance of a thunderstorm, and the forecast called for drenching rain, Christie said.
“The best information we have at the moment is the biggest reason for the spread is the wind,” he said.
No fatalities were reported and injuries were limited to exhaustion and smoke inhalation, he said. Christie declined to speculate on a cause. The fire was brought under control last night, Seaside fire officials said.
Christie used $25 million from a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to star in a television ad campaign proclaiming the state was “stronger than the storm” and encouraging visitors to return to the Jersey Shore, the cornerstone of the state’s tourism industry. It generated a record $40 billion in revenue last year.
“We’re going to have no other choice but to get back in there and do what we did after Sandy,” Matthies said in an interview. “We have to get back online, rebuild and continue the character of this town.”
Rita Sorensen said she has been staying at the Offshore Motel in Seaside Heights, and her son called to tell her of the fire about 2:30 p.m. She, her husband and another son watched the fire all day, she said. The family is scheduled to move back into their apartment next week after being displaced by Sandy.
What Sandy couldn’t destroy, the fire finished, she said.
“What more can they put us through?” she said as she fought back tears last night. “I handled Hurricane Sandy well. Emotionally, I did well. But this is killing me. It’s different. Those are memories burning there.”
Editors: Stacie Sherman, Pete Young
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