A large part of the Seaside Boardwalk and at least 20 businesses were destroyed by a massive, fast-moving fire that started at a frozen custard stand Thursday afternoon.
The fire began just after 2 p.m. along a block of the boardwalk between Stockton and Farragut Avenues, according to the Seaside Park police chief.
The fire appears to have started at the iconic Kohr’s Frozen Custard stand. The landmark shop has been part of the boardwalk since the 1920s.
Fueled by the wind, the blaze jumped to some 14 nearby structures by 5:30 p.m., eventually impacting at least 20 businesses.
The boardwalk section where the fire began is in front of the Funtown Pier. That boardwalk survived Sandy — only to be destroyed in the 10-alarm blaze. The fire happened in the same area where the amusement park was dragged into the ocean by Sandy-driven tides.
No injuries have been reported, but witnesses are reported explosions within the buildings, some collapsing due to fire.
Multiple fire companies from counties across New Jersey rushed to the scene. Thirty-five engines and 400 firefighters worked to put out the stubborn blaze, according to Gov. Christie.
Sandy damage to water lines in the area made extinguishing the fire difficult — firefighters had to draw water from Barnegat Bay.
A stiff breeze spread embers from one building to the next as the fire progressed in the direction of the wind, from the South to the North. Between 4:45 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. the fire consumed roughly four blocks of boardwalk and businesses. Six blocks were effected over the course of the day.
Governor Christie held a press conference shortly after 7 p.m. and implored nearby residents, “Please do not come here,” as engines from surrounding counties work to bring supplies into the area.
Christie also admitted the boardwalk’s destruction after an extensive recovery from Superstorm Sandy was like a punch to the gut. “I said to my staff ‘I feel like I want to throw up,’” said Christie. “I can only imagine what the business owners and residents are feeling.”
After so much hard work to restore the businesses and portions of the boardwalk itself, firefighters are now using backhoes to tear through the planks to build a fire break. The 20-foot ditch combined with rain and a switch in wind helped slow the fire’s devastating march in the end.
It is still unclear how the fire began.