More than 80% of the Seaside Park boardwalk in New Jersey, ravaged less than a year ago by super-storm Sandy, was destroyed on Thursday by a massive fire.
The fire began at a custard shop midday on Thursday and spread quickly from Seaside Park into neighboring Seaside Heights; at its height, the fire was a 10-alarm fire. Overnight, the fire was contained and there have been no casualties, although two firefighters were treated for minor injuries.
The area is “totally devastated,” Seaside Heights’ Police Chief Thomas Boyd said. “To see people work so hard to give everything that had to get going, to see it go so quick?”
The boardwalk had “just reopened back in May,” NBC News Kristen Dahlgren said on Morning Joe. “They were looking forward to moving past Sandy. They didn’t think anything could be as bad as that and now we’re hearing from a lot of people, including officials, that this was worse.”
Christie said during a Friday news conference that the fire was 95% contained, but that it could take days to extinguish flare-ups of embers that might begin to burn again in the four-block radius where the fire took place. Officials estimate that 30 buildings were destroyed in the blaze, but that number could rise—or even double—as the damage is investigated.
An investigation into its cause is underway.
“The attention is focused on how this fire started, we don’t know yet and it would be irresponsible to speculate,” Christie said. “This is typical for any fire; you should not read anything into it. We have spent most of our time and all of our resources on stopping the fire. We are going to preserve evidence. We are going to let the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office lead the investigation.”
The conditions of the fire were a “perfect storm,” Boyd said. “You had hot embers, tar roofs, and 30-mile-an-hour winds.”
The fire is currently under control, Boyd said, but it will continue to smolder and flare up throughout the next day, at least. More than 80 firefighters remained on the scene, dousing the area, hoping to cool the hot spots.
“We’re just lucky we have a good governor,” Boyd said. “He was right there, he called me personally.”
New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie held a hurried press conference Thursday night, urging residents to stay away from the scene for safety reasons.
“When I first got my first full briefing before I left Trenton to come here, I said to my staff ‘I feel like I want to throw up.’” Christie said recalling how hard the area had worked to rebuild after Sandy. “But this is us. As soon as this is over, we’ll pick ourselves up, we’ll dust ourselves off, and we’ll get back to work.”
Still, people in Seaside feel like they just can’t get a break.
“The emotional damage you can just see in people’s faces, they’ve once again lost everything,” Dahlgren said.
“I’m just waiting for the frogs and locusts,” Boyd said.
But on Friday, Christie rallied residents to rebuild.
“I will not permit all the work that we’ve done over the last 10 months to be diminished or destroyed by what happened last night,” Christie said. “We are going to get back to on our feet. We are going to do what we need to do.”