SEASIDE PARK, N.J. – A massive fire spitting fist-sized embers engulfed dozens of businesses along an iconic Jersey shore boardwalk Thursday, as workers racing to contain the blaze’s advance ripped up stretches of walkway only recently replaced in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
That last-ditch effort to save the heart of the town’s tourism business – and its very economic survival – appeared to have worked. Two hours after public works crews ripped out a 25-foot swath of boardwalk that had been hurriedly rebuilt for a visit to Seaside Heights by Prince Harry in May, the flames had not advanced past the break.
Heavy equipment filled the breach with tall walls of sand to form makeshift dunes holding back not waves but fire.
So far, so good, said Robert Matthies, the mayor of neighboring Seaside Park, where the blaze began about 2:30 p.m.
The blaze remained out of control as of 8:30 p.m., but firefighters reported some progress in containing it.
The blaze began in a frozen custard stand on the Seaside Park portion of the boardwalk and fanned by 20-mph winds from an approaching storm, 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 coaster into the ocean.
No serious injuries were reported, but the blaze destroyed all 32 businesses on the Seaside Park portion of the boardwalk, Councilwoman Nancy Koury said.
The fire burned eight blocks: four on either side of the two towns’ border, Matthies said.
We’re going to be here for several days, one firefighter said as he rushed toward the flames. A line of powerful thunderstorms that battered part of New Jersey swung north of Seaside Park, offering no help to 400 firefighters battling the flames.
The livelihoods of the two popular Jersey shore resort communities depend on summer tourism, and they spent millions of dollars rebuilding their boardwalks, arcade games, pizza stands and bar and grills to be ready for this past summer’s season.