Wayne Parry, Associated Press update 11:16 a.m. - Hot spots could keep flaring up for days on a New Jersey shore boardwalk where a fire leveled four blocks and about 30 businesses just 10 months after the same area was devastated by Superstorm Sandy.

Gov. Chris Christie said the fire was 95 percent contained by late morning Friday. He said state grants and loans could be made available to help businesses with recovery costs not covered by insurance.

Christie said there were only minor injuries, including to three police officers who fell from a moving vehicle.

"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 during a media briefing in Seaside Park.

The fire, which broke out Thursday afternoon, zipped up four blocks of boardwalk in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights. It was driven by strong gusts and fueled by tar roofs on the pizza shops, bars, ice cream shops, an arcade and other businesses.

The fire was finally stopped around 11 p.m. Thursday when officials decided to dismantle a section of the boardwalk, even though that meant moving firefighters and letting some buildings continue to burn.

Images from the air showed a once-colorful area reduced to a monochromatic pile of charred dark gray rubble. Among the places wrecked was FunTown Pier, an amusement park that had not yet reopened after being damaged last October by Sandy.

Friday, firefighters were pouring thousands of gallons of water on the smoldering remnants of the fire.

About a quarter of the 400 firefighters who battled the blaze Thursday remained on the scene Friday morning, and heavy equipment was poised to move in and start poking through the rubble once firefighters extinguished the last burning pockets.

"There's not much left" in the affected areas, said Brian Gabriel, Ocean County's fire coordinator. "It looks like a couple of bombs went off. It's pretty much complete devastation."

Authorities began making tentative plans to rebuild the boardwalk, most of which had just been redone in time for Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer. Boardwalk merchants were numb as they pondered the second major disaster to befall them in 11 months.

"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, which was one of 32 Seaside Park boardwalk businesses damaged in the fire. "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."

Seaside Park officials began plans Friday morning to rebuild their part of the boardwalk, at the southern end where the fire began Thursday afternoon near a frozen custard stand. Bob Martucci, the borough administrator, said it will cost $600,000 to rebuild the borough-owned boardwalk; individual businesses are privately owned and would not be included in that cost, he said.

Arson investigators began looking into the cause of the fire Thursday night and continued Friday morning, which is routine with a fire of this size. Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, said there was no indication Friday that the fire appeared suspicious, though a cause had not been determined.

It could have been much worse. On Thursday, as the fire pushed northward despite the frantic efforts of firefighters to contain it, Seaside Heights officials tried a Hail Mary: They ripped out a 25-foot swath of the boardwalk they had just finished rebuilding five months earlier. And they filled the void with giant sand piles — makeshift dunes designed to halt the spread of flames and save the northern portion of the boardwalk upon which the community relied for its financial survival.

It worked.

In much the same way as forest fire crews rip out vegetation to deprive an advancing fire of fuel, the boardwalk gambit succeeded in halting the fire's extension any farther into Seaside Heights.

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

Seaside Park Councilwoman Nancy Koury said the fire caused several million dollars' worth of damage.

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NBC10's Vince Lattanzio update 10:20 a.m.Three police officers have been seriously hurt after falling off a transport truck leaving the massive boardwalk fire in Seaside Park, N.J.

The incident happened around 9:30 a.m. Friday at O Street and Ocean Avenue in Seaside Park, N.J.

Ocean County Prosecutor's Office says the officers were sitting on the back of a truck when a bench gave way and the officers tumbled onto the roadway.

Two of the officers are being airlifted to trauma centers and another is being taken to the hospital by ambulance.

Officials say the officers, two men and one woman, were working overnight to secure the site of Thursday's four-block long boardwalk fire.

 

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Wayne Parry, Associated Press update 9:30 a.m.About 100 firefighters are on the boardwalk in two Jersey shore towns trying to control hot spots after a boardwalk rebuilt after Superstorm Sandy was reduced to smoldering remains by a fire.

Officials say 300 to 400 firefighters were there Thursday when the fire raged for eight hours, leveling all 32 businesses in Seaside Park and crossing the town line into Seaside Heights.

Seaside Park Fire Chief Brian Gabriel says that if the fire had not been stopped at Lincoln Avenue, there is no telling how much destruction the fire would have brought.

He says embers sparked small fires at the Casino Pier amusement park that was damaged badly by Sandy last year.

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Alan Tu update 7:54 a.m.Governor Chris Christie will hold a 10:30 a.m. media briefing today to provide an update on the Seaside Boardwalk fire that began Thursday afternoon.

NBC10 has aerial video of the smoldering boardwalk shot at 6:57 a.m.

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NBC10 Lauren DiSanto and Kelly Bayliss update 6:51 a.m.

Fire crews continue to battle hot spots left over from Thursday's massive boardwalk fire in a Jersey Shore town that was ravaged by Superstorm Sandy nearly a year ago.

Flames spread rapidly along the boardwalk in Seaside Park and neighboring Seaside Heights yesterday as dark smoke was spotted from miles away.

The fire, which started around 2:30 p.m. near Kohr Brothers Frozen Custard shop on 1800 Boardwalk, has destroyed at least 80 percent of the boardwalk in Seaside Park, according to the town's Police Chief, Francis Larken. More than 50 businesses in both Seaside Park and Seaside Heights have also been destroyed.

"The only building that's not consumed by fire is part of the arcade and the Saw Mill Café," Ocean County Fire Chief Brian Gabriel said in a press conference early Friday.

Seven hours after it started, crews had the fire under control, according to Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd. But as of 7 a.m. Friday, at least 100 firefighters are still on scene extinguishing hot spots, aided by a final soaking of heavy rain as a storm moved off the coast just before 6 a.m.

"This is obviously just an unthinkable situation..." NJ Governor Chris Christie said in a press conference Thursday as the fire raged behind him. He also said that when he first heard the news he told he staff 'I feel like I want to throw up' after all the work this area did to rebuild.

Gov. Christie said that 400 firefighters were called to the scene. Those crews cut a 20-foot wide trench by ripping out a portion of the boardwalk at Ocean and Lincoln Avenues, in the hopes of stopping the fire from spreading.

Flames quickly moved over the first trench forcing firefighters to head towards Lincoln Ave.

It was there that they were able to contain the blaze by filling the trenches with giant sand piles -- makeshift dunes that helped halt the fire from moving any further into Seaside Heights.

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

Christine Hemingway was working inside Kohr Brothers this afternoon and said it appeared as if the smoke was rising from underneath the boardwalk.

"Our manager came running through the stand and said 'get out,' we go around the corner in front of Biscayne Candy and there was smoke coming up from the boardwalk," said Hemingway. "There was a little smoke and then all of a sudden, it got real thick and black."

A dispatcher for Seaside Fire Radio also received a report that the fire was coming from underneath the boardwalk.

"Report of flames showing underneath the boardwalk by the Sawmill," that's the audio call put out to crews dispatched to the scene.

Strong winds, whipping at speeds of 30 to 40 miles per hour, were the biggest challenge for the firefighters called in to respond from neighboring NJ counties.

"It's an all-call, which means anybody that has equipment [in Ocean County] are asked to respond," said Al Della Fave, of the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, who is handling calls for the Sheriff's office while they are on scene. That means up to 33 municipalities can respond.

"It's all hands on deck and they're doing the best they can, but the winds are really making it difficult," Della Fave said yesterday.

Embers blew for at least 8 blocks, igniting a fire at the nearby Royal Sands Condominium complex at Sumner Avenue and Ocean Terrace, which was quickly put out. Those embers also landed on area homes and businesses.

Nancy O'Brien who runs EJ's Dance Club at 919 Boardwalk, which is about a mile and a half from the fire, told NBC10 that her eyes were burning and that the air was acidy. Even at that distance the smoke was a real nuisance
The area of the boardwalk between Stockton and Farragut Avenues, in front of Funtown Pier, was not destroyed during Superstorm Sandy, but the pier itself was. An estimated 90% of the 33 rides on Funtown Pier were lost in the storm.

The pier, which was not open this summer, was fully engulfed in flames, destroying the small portion that was left standing after the storm.

"It's just devastating to the area. It's just heartbreaking to see.  After what we just went to almost a year ago, and now this. I'm just in disbelief and shock over this. I can't believe it, " Larkin said.

NBC10 cameras captured part of a structure on that pier falling down.

The area of Seaside Heights that was destroyed by Thursday's fire was newly rebuilt following Sandy.

"Mainly after everything they just went through. I feel so sorry for the people that had businesses and didn't have insurance and put their own money back into it to make it work," said Patty Dibiase, who watched as the fire burned.
Several firefighters suffered minor injuries, mostly heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.

New Jersey Natural Gas isolated gas service just to the boardwalk area, luckily no residents have been affected.
The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey had more than a dozen personnel responding to the scene to assist.
Non-emergency personnel are being told to stay away.

"We are asking people to stay away from the area so that firefighters can fight this fire," said Donna Flynn, Public Information Officer for Ocean County Emergency Management.

The Mathis Bridge, which connects Toms River to the Seaside area was closed to non-emergency vehicles, as of 5:30 p.m. It remains closed this morning.

All roads leading into the area of Seaside Heights and Seaside Park are closed except to residents.

Seaside Park Mayor Bob Matthies estimates the damage from the fire will be in the millions.

"The resiliency that was demonstrated before will be called upon again to rebuild this section of the town and the commerce on the boardwalk," said Matthies.

NBC10 is a content partner with NewsWorks.

 

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Alan Tu update 10:38 p.m. - The massive boardwalk fire in New Jersey is now under control. Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd. told NBC10 that the fire that burned six blocks along the Seaside Park/Heights boardwalk is under control. 

The fire started around 2:30 p.m. but raced quickly north as winds between 20-30 mph kicked up.

"I can't smell any smoke," said Justin Auciello who was positioned at the southwest corner of the fire. "I could hit the fire with a baseball but I don't smell a thing," Auciello said of the powerful winds that pushed the smoke and embers away from him. Auciello is a Seaside Park resident and co-writes NewsWorks' Down the Shore blog. 

The above video was taken by Auciello at 8:52 p.m. at the corner of Stockton and Ocean avenues. It shows the dramatic progress firefighters have made in the past few hours.

On the northern end of the fire, six blocks away, crews ripped up 25 feet of boardwalk — which had just been rebuilt after Superstorm Sandy — and filled the void with sand piles to block the flames' advance.

It took more than 400 firefighters from as far away as Cape May and Mount Laurel to contain today's fire that reached 10 alarms.

The cause of the fire is unknown. Although the fire first engulfed the Kohr's Frozen Custard's 1800 Boardwalk location, the fire may have started at another location. NBC10 interviewed one of the Kohr employees: 

Christine Hemingway was working inside Kohr Brothers this afternoon and said it appeared as if the smoke was rising from underneath the boardwalk.

"Our manager came running through the stand and said 'get out,' we go around the corner in front of Biscayne Candy and there was smoke coming up from the boardwalk," says Hemingway. "There was a little smoke and then all of a sudden, it got real thick and black."

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Alan Tu update 7:46 p.m. - Governor Chris Christie says firefighters are creating a fire line on the boardwalk at Lincoln Ave. in an effort to stop the blaze from moving north. He says the fire has consumed about 20 boardwalk businesses over a six-block span.

Christie addressed the media at 7:15 p.m. this evening and said that the fire has steadily moved north due to 30-40 mph winds.

In addition to the gusty winds, Christie says, firefighters have had problems getting enough water on the fire because of a damaged water system. The damage occurred during Superstorm Sandy last year, he said. Water is now being pumped from the bay over the barrier island to the boardwalk to make up the difference.

The fire began around 2:30 p.m. this afternoon in Kohr's Frozen Custard shop on the boardwalk at Stockton Ave. in Seaside Park. The fire fueled by the winds travelled six blocks into Seaside Heights and is approaching Lincoln Ave. where chunks of the boardwalk have been removed.

Christie said the firefighting effort has been a statewide effort with firefighters called in from Ocean, Monmouth, Union, Mercer, Burlington, Atlantic and Cape May counties.

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Justin Auciello on-scene update 6:40 p.m - The blaze appears to have become more intense in the last few minutes in a building just to the north of Funtown Arcade.

Firefighters will be running a line from the bay to the boardwalk for a water supply, according to radio transmissions. A NJ Forest Fire Service helicopter has been requested to respond for a water drop if ordered.

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Alan Tu update 6:39 p.m. - N.J. Governor Chris Christie has arrived in Seaside Heights. He is expected to hold a news conference at 7 p.m. Governor's office spokesman Michael Drewniak issued this statement earlier tonight.

"Pictures and video of the fire are startling and sad given what Seaside Park and neighboring Seaside Heights have endured with Superstorm Sandy. Governor Christie is deeply concerned and will get a first-hand look shortly at the scene, where he will be speaking further with Mayor Matthies and Mayor Akers and offering the state's full resources and assistance. Our concerns and prayers are also with firefighters and first responders at the scene battling the blaze."

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Justin Auciello on-scene update 6:18 p.m. - Fire appears to have spread to north of Marucas. Firefighters are digging a trench near Lincoln Ave on the boardwalk in an effort to spot blaze from heading to the north, according to the Breaking News Network. Fire units from multiple continues are here or staging for a future response.

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Update 6:00 p.m. 

The six-alarm Seaside Park boardwalk fire that began earlier this afternoon is spreading north into Seaside Heights.

Route 35 has been closed between Route 37 and 24th Ave. to allow emergency vehicles to gain access to the boardwalk fire in Ocean County. Firefighters from Monmouth, Atlantic and Cape May counties have been called in to assist.

Jersey Shore Hurricane News editor Justin Auciello, who is on the scene, told NewsWorks at 5:20 p.m. that a majority of everything from Stockton and Porter avenues appears to be totally destroyed.

The fire began at Kohr's Frozen Custard's 1800 Boardwalk location has spread north fueled by 20-30 mph winds. Auciello says many businesses have been destroyed including: Jack and Bills, Kupper's French Fries and Park Seafood.

Seaside Park's Police Chief, Francis Larken told NBC10 that more than two dozen businesses have been lost.

Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd said tar roofs and the gusty winds are behind the rapid spread of the blaze. He said a section of boardwalk was being removed to create a fire line to keep the blaze from spreading. The boardwalk was just repaired after being battered during Superstorm Sandy.

Authorities say several firefighters and residents were being treated for smoke inhalation. No other injuries were reported.

1st Responder, a police and fire radio monitoring service, reported earlier today that the fire department requested the Seaside Park officials to find a way to increase water pressure to their hoses. 1st Responder reports that power has been shut down for all of the boardwalk businesses and the gas lines have been secured.
Nearby homes and businesses have been evacuated.