Seaside Park fire 100 percent contained; no word on cause

SEASIDE PARK, N.J. - September 13, 2013

Officials say this is to be expected and they are on top of any minor flare ups.

Now, the investigation into what caused the massive inferno is about to begin.

At a news conference on Friday, Gov. Chris Christie said that there was no word on how the fire started, and any speculation on the cause at this point would be "irresponsible."

Christie said state grants and loans could be made available to help businesses with recovery costs not covered by insurance.

"I will not permit all the work we've done over the last 10 months to be diminished or destroyed by what happened last night," Christie said.

Christie also took time to acknowledge the hundreds of first responders who fought the flames, saying "We honor the courage of those who fought the fire last night."

The blaze began around 2:30 p.m. Thursday in the area of a Kohr's 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.

Action News is told that, in all, at least 50 businesses were damaged or destroyed in the fire. The blaze destroyed all 32 businesses on the Seaside Park portion of the boardwalk, borough Councilwoman Nancy Koury told The Associated Press. More than 20 additional boardwalk businesses in Seaside Heights also were burned.

At the height of the 6 alarm fire more than 400 firefighters from all over New Jersey were called in to help, at one point battling embers the size of a fist.

A last-ditch effort to halt the fire's spread, by ripping out boards that had yet to burn, succeeded stopping the fire from spreading Thursday.

That Hail Mary effort began in the evening when public works crews ripped out a 25-foot swath of boardwalk to serve as a makeshift fire break, depriving the blaze of fuel.

They then filled the void with giant sand piles - makeshift dunes that this time held back not water but fire.

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

No serious injuries were reported.

Among the places wrecked was FunTown Pier, an amusement park that had not yet reopened after being damaged last October by Sandy.

"We just reopened June 1, went through the whole summer trying to stay open, and now this happens," said Daniel Shauger, manager of Funtown Arcade. "We're wiped out again. It's just unimaginable."

He said business was down by two-thirds this summer because of the fallout from Sandy, which filled his arcade with water and sand and ruined inventory, game machines and computers.

"It was just enough to survive," Shauger said. "We were really looking forward to next year. And we're still looking forward to next year."

It took firefighters eight hours to finally get the massive blaze under control. Firefighters say it is not anything like what they are used to dealing with. Most fires are contained to one or two buildings, but they say this moved more like a wildfire, spreading several blocks.

Chief Brian Gabriel of the Seaside Park Fire Department explains, "Picture a 50-foot wall of fire, about 100 foot high, just coming at you. We got enough defensible space where we could watch it come to us. We actually had guys on the roof, firefighters on a roof, observing and giving us eyes in the sky, so to say, of what was coming at us. We had every resource we possibly could have, every drop of water we possibly could have, and it worked."

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.

The livelihoods of the two popular Jersey shore resort communities depend on summer tourism and 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.

"It's devastating; I've been crying all afternoon," said Shirley Kreszl, who has rented a summer home in Seaside 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."

Gov. Christie, who raced to the fire scene, was typically blunt describing his thoughts on Thursday night.

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


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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