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Seaside Fire Consumes 6 Blocks Of Boardwalk, Shops

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SEASIDE PARK, N.J. -

Victims of Superstorm Sandy found themselves back at the center of a disaster in September of 2013. The boardwalk has been rebuilt and businesses are starting to come back, but on that September day, all hope of bringing back a thriving beach for 2014 was, for a brief moment, looking very dim.

Just 319 days after a natural disaster came a fire disaster.

A massive blaze erupted around 2:30 p.m. Thursday, September 12, near the south end of the boardwalk in Seaside Park at the Kohr's Frozen Custard Stand, about two blocks from Seaside Heights.

Wind gusts of 30 miles per hour quickly pushed the flames, smoke and embers north onto sections of the boardwalk and rooftops, some coated with petroleum-based tar. And flames traveled along a wooden pier toward the water.

The blaze was contained very late that Thursday night, and it finally brought under control Friday morning. Flames were still visible for most of the overnight hours before heavy downpours shortly before sunrise helped drive them down.

Officials estimate that 50 businesses were lost to the flames.

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Only two minor injuries to firefighters were reported during the blaze.

The cause of the fire was believed to be an electrical wiring error caused by rain and sand, Hurricane Sandy's epilogue.

Sandy was on everyone's minds that Thursday when firefighters bravely battled the fire from ground and air. Firefighters' efforts to stop the flames at Lincoln – six blocks from where the fire began – seemed to be working by Thursday night.

"The fire – the way we ended up getting this fire under control – understand that we dealt with about a 30-mph southerly breeze, which really just took the fire from south to north on the boardwalk, we ended up using what we call a trench-cut system," said Ocean County Chief Fire Coordinator Brian Gabriel during a 4:30 a.m. update.

"We set a line up on one of the streets, cut a trench in the boardwalk all the way through," Gabriel continued. "We held it there as long as we could. It didn't work. We went to our second, contingent plan, which was one block further north, Lincoln Avenue, did the same thing – cut about a 20-foot-wide strip through the brand-new boardwalk, unfortunately, that was just replaced after Hurricane Sandy, set our resources up there and, fortunately, we were able to contain it."

Gabriel said it was "dicey" when the fire leapt over firefighters' heads at the first cut-off point and had spread two businesses down before they opted to pull back to Lincoln.

There were 35 engine companies, 15 ladder companies and approximately 400 firefighters on scene by 7 p.m. Thursday, when Gov. Chris Christie held a news conference at the scene.

"This is obviously a just unthinkable situation," Christie said. "For us to be standing here and watching this, what's going on behind all over you, it's just unthinkable."

Christie assured everyone that he would provide any resources necessary to fight the fire, told the public to not come back to area until authorities deemed it safe.

Some business owners were just getting back to normal after Sandy. Now, they're facing another long recovery.

"I know how I'm feeling, I can only imagine how the residents and business owners in this area are feeling," Christie added. "My heart goes out to them. That's why I'm here, to make sure every resource to bear to contain this problem. And, listen, this is us so as soon as this is over, we'll pick ourselves up, we'll dust ourselves off and we'll get back to work."

The Charloy Motel is a few blocks from the fire. Owners opened-up their rooms for firefighters while they were on the job.

The motel was coming off a slow summer because of Sandy, and now it's dealing with another tough blow. The owner says September was almost regular, and if her phones were working Thursday night she was sure they would have been ringing with cancellations.

More than 100 firefighters remained on scene Friday morning to pour water on hotspots.

It took be a few more days until business owners on the boardwalk were be able to get a look at the damage done. Despite the damage, business owners vowed to push on and rebuild even stronger. It's now December, 2013. The sand dunes have again been completed, the boardwalk has been rebuild, and Seaside is again gearing up for tourists and beach goers for next year. After a turbulent year, it's about time for some great things to happen.

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