Firefighters Make Stand Against New Jersey Boardwalk Blaze

By: ABC News Email
By: ABC News Email

PHOTO: A Seaside, NJ, roller coaster landed in the ocean after superstorm Sandy.

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Firefighters dug a trench and tore out a section of Jersey Shore boardwalk in an effort to prevent a furious, wind-whipped blaze from jumping to an area just rebuilt after Superstorm Sandy.

By late evening, officials were voicing hopes that the plan was working and the fire that raged on the boardwalk in Seaside Park, N.J., was dying down.

"The threat of it moving at this point is minimal and emergency workers did an amazing job," said John Camera, borough administrator in the neighboring boardwalk town of Seaside Heights, according to ABC News Radio.

"The fire appears to be under control," Camera said. "They'll be people stationed there probably for another day or more and they expect that there may be controlled burning."

At one point, the blaze went beyond 10 alarms to an "all county call," according to ABC News New York station WABC. It destroyed a length of boardwalk containing perhaps 30 businesses, officials said, near the same stretch of sand where a rollercoaster landed upright in the ocean after Sandy hit the coastline in October 2012.

"I said to my staff, 'I feel like I want to throw up,'" N.J. Gov. Chris Christie told reporters near the fire scene this evening. "And that's me, after all the effort and time and resources that we put in."

By nightfall, a six-block length of boardwalk south of Lincoln Avenue had been almost totally destroyed, but firefighters were hopeful of keeping 30-to-40-mph wind gusts from blowing the fire further north across a trench set up at Lincoln Avenue, Christie said. The site of the trench and beyond included a stretch of boardwalk just rebuilt after Sandy devastated the area.

"I know how I'm feeling," Christie said. "I can only imagine how the residents and business owners in this area are feeling. My heart goes out to them. That's why I'm here to make sure that every resource is brought to bear to contain this problem."

Firefighters filled the Lincoln Avenue fire break with huge sand dunes to fortify it against the flames, according to reports.

In addition, officials hoped a storm front expected to pass through area would help douse the flames and calm the winds, Christie said.

Only non-serious injuries to firefighters have been reported, he added.

The fire may have begun Thursday afternoon at a Kohr's frozen custard stand on the boardwalk, according to WABC.

However, officials were hesitant to speculate a cause for the blaze, or even speak on the record about where it may have started.

Officials told ABC News that the section of boardwalk that burned was the only stretch that was not rebuilt after Sandy. It was part of the old boardwalk that was not destroyed in the storm, they said.

Besides the wild winds, the nature of the construction was seen to be fueling the fire.

"The boardwalk's made out of wood," Camera told ABC News Radio early Thursday evening. "Most of the construction on the buildings is wood and I'm sure it's spreading."

Christie told area home- and business owners to stay away until they were told it was safe to return.

"Do not come here," he said. "Do not travel. Stay away. We are still trying to bring more fire equipment in here ... and we need to have easy access to this boardwalk."

He noted logistical difficulties firefighters faced, including special lines that had to be set up to draw water from Barnegat Bay because of infrastructure damage to the water system caused by Sandy.

Firefighters from departments all over New Jersey responded to battle the blaze, Christie said.

Seaside Park Police Chief Francis Larkin told WABC this afternoon that workers were hosing down the boardwalk in the rebuilt area ahead of the flames, as well as rides and amusements, to try and keep the fire from spreading.

"After going through Sandy ... now there are blocks and blocks of the boardwalk ablaze, with Kohr's Custard and Three Brothers Pizza, and the historical carousel in Seaside Heights, a block into the Heights, that's compromised as well, it's absolutely, absolutely devastating what's going on right now," Larkin said. "It's just disbelief right now."

Larkin said there were reports of "explosions" heard on the boardwalk that he said could be propane tanks from restaurants on the boardwalk, though Christie later dismissed reports of gas explosions.

Christie cancelled his scheduled events to travel to Seaside.


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