SEASIDE PARK, N.J. (AP) — 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. Officials say the fire was under control by about 10:30 p.m.
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 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."