Written by Bryan Littel
With the Seaside Park and Seaside Heights boardwalk fire, which destroyed at least 20 businesses and gutted what was left of the Sandy-damaged Funtown Pier, largely under control, Gov. Chris Christie announced he’ll be on the barrier island for a morning briefing on the situation Friday.
Christie will be at Porter and Ocean avenues, near the worst of the damage from the fire, at 10:30 a.m. to speak with media, and said his heart goes out to the people of the two towns.
“To see this going on is just unthinkable,” Christie said at a briefing Thursday. “This is New Jersey. As soon as this is over, we will pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and get back to work.”
Fueled by high winds, the fire, which began at Kohr’s Ice Cream on the Seaside Park end of the boardwalk around 2:15 p.m., was “a worst-case scenario,” according to fire officials, who called in between 400 and 500 firefighters from around Ocean County to battle the multi-alarm fire.
"It looks like a war zone," said Brian Gabriel, the Ocean County Chief Fire Coordinator, describing severe damage along the recently rebuilt Seaside Heights and Seaside Park boardwalks.
Officials from the two towns said they were devastated by the fire.
"We're just starting to recover from Sandy, and now this," said Seaside Park councilwoman Jean Contessa.
Flames consumed the iconic Funtown Pier log flume house by Thursday afternoon, and continued to burn through businesses and the boardwalk, pushed by winds that drove it north toward the Seaside Heights boardwalk.
Firefighters cut one trench, only to have the fire leap between buildings, Gabriel said, but had more success ripping a 20-foot-wide trench across the boards around Lincoln Avenue, which Gabriel said helped turn the fight.
By 10 p.m. Thursday, the fire had been 70-percent contained, and with overnight efforts from a second shift of fire crews, the fire was under control as the sun rose Friday, Gabriel said.
"All the firefighters, from whatever towns were there, did a hell of a job stopping this thing," he said.
Nearly every town in Ocean County was contributing to the firefighting effort, and in turn, firefighters from Union to Cape May counties were being called in for mutual aid to staff local stations, according to Al Della Fave, spokesperson for the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office.
"We don't want to leave these towns uncovered," he said. "They have positioned assets close enough so they will be prepared to respond."
Despite the size of the blaze and the number of firefighters called in, there were only a handful of injuries, according to Gabriel, with several firefighters also being treated for smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion.
Reporting by Daniel Nee, Colleen Platt and Patricia A. Miller.