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Almost a year after Hurricane Sandy devastated the New Jersey coastline, a massive fire engulfed areas of the newly rebuilt boardwalk in the adjoining towns of Seaside Park and Seaside Heights. The fire began near Kohr’s ice cream shop on the Seaside Park Boardwalk on Thursday afternoon, and quickly spread along the shore, destroying over 50 businesses and causing severe damage to many more.
Over 400 firefighters worked to contain the blaze, which gained in strength as 30 mile-an-hour winds whipped up the flames. The fire—in which no one was seriously hurt—destroyed four blocks of the newly rebuilt boardwalk; four blocks on the Seaside Park side and an additional four blocks of the Seaside Heights side. It was eventually stalled by responders who ripped up sections of the boardwalk and hastily constructed sand dunes to dampen the flames. The fire was eventually extinguished around 8pm local time, and it left months of rebuilding work in ruins.
At the scene, residents and local officials reacted in stunned horror to the fire, which dealt a serious blow to neighborhoods still recovering from Superstorm Sandy. Governor Chris Christie told journalists “I feel like I want to throw up… After all the effort and time and resources that we put into it…to see this going on…is just unthinkable,” while Seaside Park Police Chief Francis Larkin, explained “I think I’m gonna wake up and it’ll be a bad dream.”
The Seaside towns are dependent on boardwalk tourism, and have worked quickly to rebuild after last year’s hurricane. The newly rebuilt 84-year-old Funtown Pier amusement park, which sits on the shore, was scheduled to reopen next week following a year of repairs, but is once again shuttered, badly damaged by the blaze. The boardwalk itself, which was featured in many iconic photographs of a castaway roller coaster, was rebuilt within months, heralding the resilient spirit of an area that could come back quickly from the October 30th, 2012 storm.
With millions of dollars worth of damage now inflicted on the struggling area, and many residents now once again finding themselves without a job, it remains to be seen how the Shore will once again recover from disaster. But Governor Christie, as ever, remains defiant, stating to the Washington Post during the fire’s height that “as soon as this is over, we’ll pick ourselves up, we’ll dust ourselves off and we’ll get back to work.”