Seaside Park Picks Up the Pieces After Massive Boardwalk Blaze

Eighty percent of the boardwalk was destroyed, including more than 50 businesses

Seaside Park, like the rest of the Jersey Shore, bounced back after Sandy battered the coast almost a year ago. 

Now, less than two days after a massive blaze engulfed many of the just-rebuilt businesses and boardwalk, the town has to rebuild again.

"We're going to get back on our feet," said Gov. Chris Christie. "We're going to do what we need to do."

Authorities are making tentative plans to rebuild the boardwalk, most of which had just been redone in time for Memorial Day weekend. Bob Martucci, the borough administrator, said it will cost $600,000 to rebuild the borough-owned boardwalk. Individual businesses would not be included in that cost, he said.

Boardwalk merchants were numb as they pondered the second major disaster to befall them in 11 months.

"We just reopened June 1, went through the whole summer trying to stay open, and now this happens," said Daniel Shauger, manager of Funtown Arcade, which was one of 32 Seaside Park boardwalk businesses damaged in the fire. "We're wiped out again. It's just unimaginable."

He said business was down by two-thirds this summer because of the fallout from Sandy, which filled his arcade with water and sand and ruined inventory, game machines and computers.

"It was just enough to survive," Shauger said. "We were really looking forward to next year. And we're still looking forward to next year."

PHOTOS: Jersey Shore Boardwalk Fire

Other business owners had better luck. Wayne Cimorilli talked on air Thursday afternoon with NBC 4 New York on the roof of his restaurant, Spicy Cantina, as he tried to keep flames from spreading to the building with little more than a hose. 

Spicy survived the fire, but Cimorilli said he never expected the flames to get so close to his front door. He said he can't help but regret not being able to save other businesses.

"How do I feel?" he said Friday. "A little guilty that we're open and we're doing some business tonight."

Christie said state grants and loans could be made available to help businesses with recovery costs not covered by insurance.

On a visit to the boardwalk on Saturday Christie said he planned to meet privately with 30 of the more than 50 business owners who suffered losses in Thursday's fire

Just north of Seaside Park, neighboring Seaside Heights is set to kick off a celebration of the town's 100th anniversary. The event was pushed back a day thanks to the blaze. But the undamaged part of the boardwalk will remain open, as well as the Casino Pier. 

"Our hearts go out to our dear friends in Seaside Park as we keep them in our thoughts and prayers and urge everyone to attend and show their support during this unfortunate time," New Heights Festival organizers said in a statement.

For hours Thursday, hundreds of firefighters dumped thousands of gallons of water on the rapidly spreading inferno that started at Kohrs Frozen Custard in the afternoon. The blaze devoured most of the boardwalk and the businesses on it before crews were able to stave off the flames by ripping up a section of boardwalk in Seaside Heights and digging a 25-foot trench in the sand. 

Officials are still trying to determine the cause of the fire, but it may take some time before they can look into all the evidence. That's because officials think hot spots could keep flaring up for days.
Christie cautioned not to speculate about the cause. Like other fires, it's being treated as a crime scene for now.

There were no serious injuries in the fire, but three police officers who worked overnight at the scene were seriously hurt Friday morning when they fell off a truck that was taking them out of the fire zone. Christie said they all had head injuries. 

The sight of the charred remains of Seaside Park's boardwalk stirs up emotions.
Firefighters from Elizabeth, N.J. were among those who helped battle the blaze, hauling a system containing thousands of feet of hose and a massive water cannon that shoots water 400 feet onto the flames. They laid the hose four blocks to the Barnegat Bay, where they drew water to help put out the blaze. 

"As soon as you got your license, that's where you wanted to go, Seaside. That was it," said Elizabeth firefighter Dennis Connor. 

"I used to come down here as a young kid, when I was 13 years old, used to come down for two weeks every summer with friends of mine," said Elizabeth Fire Deputy Chief Andy Sandoukas. 

"It feels like another dagger in your heart, after the devastation of Sandy last year," said Sandoukas. "You think they're rebounding, and now it's just another blow."

--Katherine Creag, Pat Battle, Checkey Beckford, Tracie Strahan and Pei-Sze Cheng contributed to this story.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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