Story Summary

Seaside Park boardwalk fire

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A massive fire on September 12, 2013 destroyed most of the Seaside boardwalk and local businesses including landmarks such as Kohr’s Frozen Custard, where the blaze apparently began.  The boardwalk, while damaged, survived Superstorm Sandy and was refurbished over the past year.

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SEASIDE HEIGHTS, New Jersey (PIX11) - Bill Akers is the Mayor of Seaside Heights, New Jersey.  In the past year he has seen Sandy devastate his town and fire destroy a chunk of his boardwalk.

The area may be battered, but it’s spirit is far from broken, “We all know that bad things happen in life but that doesn’t mean that it has to let it get you down.”

The accidental fire that tore through the area under a month ago, totaled nearly 60 businesses.  Now amidst the rubble, bulldozers, excavators and those who come here daily to reflect, there is also a rebirth, “I see progress. We need that to happen,” said Akers just yards away from the charred debris.

The initial clean-up phase will cost approximately $5-million dollars.  Another $10-million will be spent on construction. The completion of the project is targeted by next Memorial Day.

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When PIX 11 News spoke with Mayor Akers he talked about the Fun Town sign.  While its building is gone, it still stands as a symbol, “It’s part of the past hanging on to what is going to be the new future.  Because while there will be a new Fun Town, everything is going to be upgraded. Everything is going to be new, so it’s kind of like the past coming into the future for me.”

Michael Cabone knows this boardwalk and its past well, “I’ve been here my whole life.  Since I was a little kid I sold newspapers on the boardwalk.”

Carbone is the owner if the Beachcomber restaurant and bar.  On the day of the fire he says that he had an angel looking over him.  He points to an image of a rainbow over the property as the blaze inched closer.  Miraculously the beachcomber survived and opened in late September.

Carbone says that he relieved they have started tearing everything down. He wants life on the shore to return to its old ways, “This is sadness and this is devastation and as soon as this is gone, which they say will be gone very shortly, it will be back to normal and we will look outside and we will see a nice beautiful beach again.”

Workers are about to demolish the fire-damaged Seaside Park boardwalk.

The plan is to start tearing down buildings next week and have it all done within two months.

A massive blaze tore through five blocks of the boardwalk two and a half weeks ago.

Investigators say electrical wires damaged by salt water and sand from Superstorm Sandy caused the inferno.

Resilient Seaside residents begin long road to recovery — AGAIN

Last week the boardwalk fire in New Jersey that left so many of us stunned, this week residents are working to pull themselves together.

(PIX11) – The fire that destroyed a famed Jersey Shore boardwalk may have been sparked by damage from Superstorm Sandy, which the towns of Seaside Park and Seaside Heights were slowly recovering from when the fire wiped out almost a year of rebuilding efforts.

For days, Ocean County investigators rummaged through the southern most portion of of the Seaside Park boardwalk, trying to see if it was an accident or suspicious.

It was the perfect storm for an epic fire. There were  30mph winds from the south, tar roofing on the dozens of doomed businesses, and, of course, a wooden boardwalk. The fire was devastating and managed to wipe out four blocks.

Investigators used a method called arc mapping which helps to determine where there was an electrical failure — metal to metal contact causing wiring to blow apart, arc or spark.

That’s exactly what happened at the fire’s origin, just behind the famed Kohr’s Frozen Custard stand and under the boardwalk itself.

It is believed the wiring that caught fire was installed after 1970.  This wiring could have failed on its own, but certainly was affected by Sandy.

While business owners and the community would prefer a definitive answer, Prosecutor Joseph Coronato believes they may never know..

In any case, while the investigation is closed, Coronato urged the public to be cautious and to learn a lesson from this tragedy.

“If you’re a property owner, make sure that it’s safe.  It’s that property owner’s responsibility,” he said.

“We are not trying to send a panic mode. We are trying to be reasonable here . The reasonable alternative is this. If you are a property owner and you believe that your electical system came into contact with water and sand then the right thing to do is to have it inspected by the proper electrical officials,” Coronato said

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(PIX11) – An electrical problem set off the epic fire that wiped out the Seaside Park boardwalk last week, investigators announced Tuesday.

And the cause is likely linked to aging wires or to the tragedy the boardwalk was trying to move on from — Superstorm Sandy.  Prosecutors said they may never know definitively.

Investigators interviewed business owners, examined photos and videos, as well as examined possible financial motives.

They uncovered a  failure of electrical equipment and wiring possibly caused by Sandy flood waters.

Officials are urging all businesses and homeowners to examine electrical equipment damaged by flood waters.

The fire originated under a structure that housed not only Kohr’s ice cream stand but also Biscayne Candies.

The wiring here was installed after 1970. It could have failed on its own but could also have been impacted by water and sand from Sandy.

The blaze began Thursday afternoon and consumed the rest of the boardwalk, as well as a portion of the one in neighboring Seaside Heights in just hours.

New Jersey is using money set aside for Sandy recovery to help clear and rebuild the fire-damaged businesses

(PIX11) – A new report suggests that investigators have ruled the devastating fire in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights as accidental.

Seaside Heights police chief Thomas Boyd and Gov. Chris Christie’s office have not commented on the report.

A spokesman for the Ocean County’s prosecutor’s office, which investigated the fire, said it has not made any announcement regarding the ruling on the fire.

It says the prosecutors will release the findings when they are finalized.

A news conference on the investigation is expected at 2 p.m. in Toms River.

NEW YORK CITY (PIX11) - Smoke still rises from the charred remains of what was once the Boardwalk in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights more than 90 hours after the fire that destroyed nearly 4 dozen businesses.

The Ocean Terrace condominiums  felt the heat of the blaze just across the street last Thursday.  On Monday the owner tells PIX 11 News that it wasn’t until this morning that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms vehicles finally left the area, “They’ve been camped out since Thursday.”

Nonetheless, a state fire marshal vehicle remained yards from where the fire started.

While questions still linger about the cause, one firefighter who battled the blaze informed PIX 11 News on Monday that it would be “incredibly abnormal” for someone to intentionally start a fire in the middle of the afternoon. Arson usually doesn’t work that way.

Now as tourists stroll in front of an undamaged section by Lucky Leo’s, they turn around and survey the unlucky section just yards away.

“I don’t even want to look, it’s very depress(ing),” said Angela Papoutsakis.  Her family barely evaded the loss of the pizzeria that they own. The inferno was worse than Sandy, she said, and the psychological impact for business owners and their families remains demoralizing, “The worst thing is . . . mentally, it’s the stress it’s the pressure, it’s like it’s very depressed. They are going to need help,” she said in broken English.

Yards away from the rubble grief counselors were handing out literature and directing those impacted by the blaze to the Seaside Heights Community Center, where the Red Cross and additional counselors were setting up to begin the mental rebuilding process.

As for the rebuilding of the boardwalk and the businesses that left a mark in the minds of so many generations over the years?

Over the weekend Governor Chris Christie indicated that the state will contribute $15 million in aid.

Just after 3 p.m. on Monday afternoon, the state opened up for its “Mobile Cabinet” at the volunteer fire house.  Business owners were able to finally get some answers, “The governor is doing a good job. We have some property that has been destroyed so that is why I’m here to find out what is going to find out how we are going to rebuild and get it back,” said Bill Haller.

Michael Carbone lost his bar, The Beachcomber, a day after installing eight new 50-inch televisions. He admits that the initial meeting was semi-constructive, “You ask them a question they don’t have the answers for us, yes, but they’re trying to help us.”

Steve Whalen, another business owner, agrees.  When asked as to whether or not he received the answers he was looking for?

“They weren’t up there handing out checks, but I think I got enough to send me in the right direction and the right path.”

Seaside Heights, NEW JERSEY (PIX11) – Just two days after it’s neighbor to the south was ravaged by an inferno, Seaside Heights, as New Jerseyans have learned to do, moved forward.

“You have to go forward. You went forward from Sandy, you have to go forward from this,” said Gina pallis of Ortley Beach.

Thousands of people packed the boardwalk to celebrate the borough’s 100th anniversary Saturday.

“This is the first time this year. Finally, a great turnout,” Seaside Heights resident Mickey Miller said.

The festival marks a major milestone for the iconic shore front community that lost most of its boardwalk during Hurricane Sandy.

“The last year has been rough. But the turnout today has been fabulous. I’m glad to see it,” Ken Delapietro said.

The unexpected crowds hopefully bringing a much needed economic boost after a disappointing summer.

“I think that it’s great that the businesses have some people here to spend some money and bring the shore back,” said Lou gallipoli of Toms River.

Meanwhile just blocks away. firefighters continued to sift through the ashes of the last remaining section of the original boardwalk in Seaside Park.

The section withstood Sandy, but fell to the flames.

“I think maybe a lot of people came out to see the disaster that happened this past week but i mean the businesses are doing well and they have all these stands and people are spending money and that’s what’s important,” Linda Gale Alati said.

Even though most people here in Seaside Heights say they were surprised by the crowds for the centennial celebration, they say this is evidence for the people in Seaside Park that they too can rebuild.

“That says a lot about New Jersey, it says a lot about the shore, and it says a lot about Seaside Heights in particular that really nothing is going to stop them,” Jane Owen said.

They’re beyond the point of sadness and shock. This blow left many Seaside residents reeling with little or no hope at all. We found this business owner staring at the charred up boardwalk.

As night fell, a little more than 24 hours after Kohr’s Ice Cream shop went up in flames, spreading to dozens of businesses, investigators were still on the scene Friday night.

The Ocean County Prosecutor’s office told PIX11 News they are now looking for possible accelerants, and trying to determine a burn pattern here.

Business owners and residents were waiting and watching for some shred of news that would tell them what caused the devastating fire.

“It’s been so horrible for everybody…It’s like another punch,” said RoseMary MccRae.

It was only a few months ago, this seaside town was full of smiles when Prince Harry came to visit and reopen the boardwalk. They thought their grieving was over. This fire broke their hearts that were already bruised and battered.

Seaside Park, NEW JERSEY (PIX11) – The Kohrs Brothers started their custard business not in Seaside but rather on the boardwalk of Coney Island back in 1919.

But here in Seaside Park and along the rest of the Jersey Shore, is where they were crowned the kings of custard.

“They are a legend, it’s like in Coney Island, it’s like the hotdog place in Coney Island,” said Michael Graichen, who works for Seaside Park Special Events.

Generations of families shared the traditional cones while strolling along the boardwalk on hot summer nights. A perfectly spun cone paired perfectly with a spin on the iconic merry-go-round.

“My daughter Was on the carousel when she was six months old now she’s 43. So it just goes to show you that this was the place to be,” said Seaside Park resident Anna Morrison.

Like many of the boardwalk businesses, Kohr Brothers was hit hard by Sandy.The few remaining stands on the Seaside Park boardwalk melted by the fire like custard on a hot summer night.Seaside Park

“It’s devastating my son said something last night, he said you know bit by bit my childhood is disappearing,” Linda LaCugna said.

Friday the Kohr family issued this statement:

“What can we say? Our hearts are broken. Kohr’s Frozen Custard lost all four stands to yesterday’s fire. Not only did we witness our business being taken from us, right before our eyes, we also witnessed our family’s history go up in smoke. Our hearts go out to all our neighbors, friends, and family that had to witness the same. Thankfully no lives were lost and nobody suffered serious injury. Thank you to the firefighters that fought tirelessly to save what they could. Finally, thank all of you for your thoughts, prayers, condolences, and well wishes. Sincerely, Bruce and Nancy Kohr.”

Some of the people living here in Seaside Park say because this portion of the boardwalk was still standing, the devastation never hit them like it did people in other communities.Now after this fire, they say the stability they found in the boardwalk is gone.And even if they rebuild, they say it will never be the same.

“I don’t even know. I can’t process it right now, I feel sick. I feel like my husband worked so hard just coming back from Sandy and then this,” said Lauren Dionisio through tears.

Nick and Lauren Dionisio worked tirelessly from the ground up after Sandy and it paid off.Their restaurant, Park Seafood, opened before Memorial Day weekend.

But they never imagined less than a year later they would be thinking of rebuilding yet again, this time from an inferno.

“I’m still numb from the hurricane,” said Nick Dioniosio.

The couple had for the first time in months taken the night off from work and from their two toddler children to be together.

The break from the stress was shattered with just one phone call.

“The phone started ringing at 3 o’clock, a quarter to 3 and I rushed over here and…I couldn’t watch anymore,” Nick said.

The Dionisios along with dozens of other business owners watched helplessly as 11 months of back breaking labor literally go up in flames.

The aftermath was utter devastation.

“I feel like we’re starting all over again. Storm, now the fire. What’s next?” said Michael Carbone, owner of Beachcombers Bar.

A four block stretch of Jersey Shore boardwalk, gone.

A fire originating at Kohr’s Frozen Custard spread furiously, 30 mph winds, tar roofing, and of course a wood boardwalk all acting as contributing factors to how rapidly the fire moved.

“I said to my staff I really feel like I’m going to throw up. How much more are people going to be expected to take?” said Governor Chris Christie.

Hundreds of firefighters only managed to contain the blaze by cutting through the boardwalk, preventing the fire from moving any further.

The plan worked, but not until more than 30 businesses were lost.

Friday, despite curiosity and speculation, Governor Chris Christie refused to discuss what may have caused the fire, only saying an investigation will take a few more days.

“The team on the ground is tackling this one step at a time to ensure that this sight is secured and safe,” Christie said.

Firefighters more than 24 hours later are still battling hot spots, which they expect will pop up for another couple of days.

“Fire is contained within the perimeters of where it already burned. It’s not going any further,” said the Fire Coordinator.

In his final press update, Governor Christie did not allow this moment to escape him, making sure everyone was aware of the resilience of not only New Jersey but the community of Seaside Park and Seaside Heights..

“I will not allow all the work over the past few months to be diminished by what happened last night. We’re going to get back on our feet and do what we need to do,” the Governor said.

“We’ll get through it. We love each other, we’re strong. I was on this boardwalk as a kid before I could walk. I was pushed on a stroller and I know this town will make it happen. We’ll be back.”

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