Seaside Heights fire: Raging fire strikes at the heart of Sandy-hit NJ town

Fire: Seaside Heights and Seaside Park both lost four blocks of oceanfront property to a fire that destroyed 32 businesses in Seaside Park and 20 businesses in Seaside Heights.

Kristi Funderburk/The Asbury Park Press/AP
Firefighters battle a raging fire on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, N.J., Sept. 12. The Seaside fire apparently started in an ice cream shop and has spread several blocks to Seaside Heights and Seaside Park. The boardwalk was damaged in superstorm Sandy and was being repaired.

A raging fire spewing fist-sized embers engulfed much of an iconic Jersey shore boardwalk Thursday, destroying more than 50 businesses and undoing months of rebuilding efforts after the inundation of superstorm Sandy.

Workers joined the fire in tearing into the boardwalk — a last-ditch effort to rob the inferno of fuel that helped preserve what was left of the economic lifeblood of Seaside Park and Seaside Heights.

The wind-whipped fire devoured eight blocks of boardwalk — four in each town — and caused millions of dollars in damage before workers halted its advance by ripping out a large section of boardwalk and piling up huge makeshift sand dunes meant to hold back fire, not water.

The blaze destroyed 32 businesses on the Seaside Park portion of the boardwalk, borough Councilwoman Nancy Koury told The Associated Press. Michael Loundy, a real estate agent who works with Seaside Heights on tourism projects, said 20 businesses were destroyed there.

The 6-alarm blaze began in the area of a frozen custard stand on the Seaside Park portion of the boardwalk. Fanned by 15-20 mph winds from an approaching storm system, it quickly spread north into Seaside Heights, the boardwalk town where the MTV series "Jersey Shore" was filmed — and where the October storm famously plunged a roller coast into the ocean.

The massive fire came just after the close of the summer tourist season that was marked by furious rebuilding efforts to fix damage caused by the winds and flooding of Sandy.

"It's devastating; I've been crying all afternoon," said Shirley Kreszl, who has rented a summer home inSeaside Park for decades. "Haven't we been hit enough? We try to rebuild and just when we think we saved a little bit of our town, this happens. It's just not fair."

The livelihoods of the two popular Jersey shore resort communities depend on summer tourism; they had just spent millions of dollars rebuilding their boardwalks, arcade games, pizza stands and bar and grills to be ready for the summer season. Seaside Heights rushed to rebuild its boardwalk in time for a May visit by Britain's Prince Harry, and finished with only hours to spare.

"I can't believe this is happening," Koury said as she watched the flames devour boardwalk structures. "Our small business people went through so much in the storm to get ready for summer and stay open all summer, and now it's all gone. I just can't believe it."

Gov. Chris Christie was typically blunt describing his thoughts.

"I feel like I want to throw up," he said.

The Hail Mary effort to save the remainder of the boardwalk began in the evening when public works crews tore out a 25-foot swath of boardwalk to serve as a makeshift fire break, depriving the blaze of fuel, and mounded up sand to hold off the advancing flames.

"That appears to have done the trick," said Seaside Park Mayor Robert Matthies.

Firefighters continued to pour water on the ruins well into the night, dousing a long line of now-gutted structures facing the beach.

Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the Ocean County prosecutor's Office, said there was no immediate indication of whether the fire appeared to be suspicious or accidental. The first priority was putting it out and securing the scene, he said.

A detailed investigation was due to get underway on Friday.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.