Jersey Shore boardwalk in flames a year after Hurricane Sandy

Jersey Shore coastline devastated last year by superstorm Sandy is ravaged again by huge fire that engulfed businesses in two towns

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 September, 2013, 3:29am


A boardwalk on the New Jersey coast, only just rebuilt after parts of the US state were devastated by Hurricane Sandy nearly a year ago, has been ravaged by fire.

A blaze that started in a frozen custard shop quickly engulfed businesses along a stretch of beach in two towns on America's mid-Atlantic coast.

Flames and black smoke rose high above the boardwalk in Seaside Park, where the fire began at about 2.30pm on Thursday.

Within hours, strong gusts of wind swept the fire north along the adjoining boardwalk of Seaside Heights, where a roller coaster had sat mangled in the ocean for months and became a symbol of the storm's damage.

Funtown Pier, which was almost destroyed by the hurricane, collapsed in flames. Nearby, the fire appeared to have ruined a historic carousel that had been painstakingly restored and only recently reopened.

In all, about 20 businesses over a six-block stretch of the Jersey Shore were destroyed, said New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Standing in front of emergency vehicles in Seaside Heights, he called the fire unthinkable.

When he heard the news, the governor recalled: "I said to my staff, 'I feel like I want to throw up.' I can only imagine how the residents and business owners in this town are feeling."

Johnny Nysether, 24, a local resident whose first job was in a confectionery store on the boardwalk, said the business had "gone up in smoke". Comparing the fire to the hurricane, he said: "Watching it burn is a lot like watching it drown. I have a lot of friends and family that just lost their jobs."

Rory Delaney, who co-owned a commercial building on the boardwalk, said her building was "gone - it's rubble". The building reopened in mid-July after being damaged during the hurricane.

The fire was a devastating setback to an area struggling to get back on its feet.

It burned for about five hours, and was finally contained shortly before 8pm. It was tackled by about 400 firefighters from more than 30 towns in Ocean county.

By evening, they had dug a 15-metre trench in the sand, hoping to stop the fire moving farther north.

The fire apparently began at the Seaside Park location of a Kohr's Frozen Custard, where the signs proudly boasted of serving the Shore for nearly a century.

Officials declined to speculate on what had caused the fire. But, fuelled by high winds, it spread quickly to a condominium development in Seaside Heights and threatened homes and businesses several blocks inland.

Mayor Robert Matthies, of Seaside Park, said: "It's a tremendous wrench in the recovery."

Staff at the Sawmill Cafe saw the fire begin at the Kohr's next door and tried to put it out with extinguishers.

"It just moved too fast," said Michael Popek, a manager at the café, which reopened in spring.

He added: "It breaks your heart. Everything along the boardwalk was closed. We were just happy to be open this summer and have some business. We were struggling all summer."