Seaside Park fire burns in New Jersey

10:15 PM, Sep 12, 2013   |    comments
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Photo Gallery: NJ Shore Boardwalk Fire
A fire that started at Kohr's frozen custard in Seaside Park and spread to other boardwalk businesses, including FunTown Pier, has now reached Seaside Heights, Police Chief Francis Larkin said. (photo by Asbury Park Press)

SEASIDE PARK (APP.com) -- A fire that started at Kohr's frozen custard in Seaside Park and spread to other boardwalk businesses, including FunTown Pier, has now reached Seaside Heights, Police Chief Francis Larkin said.

Update 9:16 p.m.: Maruca's Pizza confirms on its Facebook page that its building has been damaged and potentially destroyed by the fire. "We would like to thank everybody for their support as well as the firefighters and first responders who are working hard to diminish this fire and keep everyone safe."

Update 8:41 p.m.: The remaining fire is mostly inside one building with multiple shops. Seaside Heights Police Chief Boyd said the tar roof was a big issue.

Update 8:39 p.m.: What made the difference from a full blaze to under control was dying wind and more help, said Bill Hibell, Seaside Heights' OEM coordinator.

Update 8:26 p.m.: Three Kohr's, Maruca's Pizza, Jack & Bills, Carousel Arcade among the buildings badly damaged or destroyed in the fire. The Beachcomber and Sawmill damaged.

Update 8 p.m.: 12 firefighters have suffered smoke inhalation, according to Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd. About 400 firefighters from several counties are helping battle the blaze.

Update 7:56 p.m.: Casino Pier in Seaside Heights reported on its Facebook page that it has not been damaged by the fire.

Update 7:49 Fire reported under control, according to Bill Hibell, emergency management coordinator for Seaside Heights. Not expected to spread north of Lincoln Avenue.

Update 7:34 p.m. Connie Hawkins of Ortley Beach, whose home was destroyed during Sandy, said she was at the bank depositing her FEMA check when she saw the smoke and drove to Seaside Park.

"It's horrible. Why is God doing this to us again?" she said. "How much more can we take?"

"The wind started blowing out of the east and north and it started blowing toward the businesses," said Hawkins, who is recovering from lung cancer.

Update 7:31 p.m.: A combined six blocks of boardwalk are on fire in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights, of which only one block was rebuilt post-Sandy. That is the section from Dupont to Lincoln avenues, Seaside Heights business administrator John Camera said. The remainder did not need to be repaired from the storm.

Overall 15 blocks of boardwalk in Seaside Heights were rebuilt after storm damage, he said.

Update 7:27 Ocean County Prosecutor's Office spokesman Al Della Fave said Porter Avenue north to Lincoln Avenue appears to be burning or fire damaged.

"The smoke is so black and billowing, it's impossible to tell" the extent of the full damage, he said.

The wind is hampering efforts of firefighters, Della Fave said, who have responded from departments across Ocean County. Fire departments in Monmouth and Burlington counties are answering all other Ocean County fire calls at this time, he said.

Update 7:20 Gov. Christie said they hope the trench they've drawn on Lincoln Avenue will stop the fire, but they cannot say it's contained.

Update 7:18 Gov. Christie says the fire covers a six-block area and has impacted 20 businesses. "It's unthinkable," he said.

Update 7:07 p.m.: Seaside Heights business administrator John Camera said the fire break in the boardwalk at Lincoln Avenue is holding at this point. He said it's about 50 feet and firefighters are also dousing it with water to prevent the spread. It is still a concern because embers from the fire have jumped over buildings and lit other structures on fire.

Update 7:05 p.m.: Sawmill Cafe in Seaside Park still stands but has exterior damage.

Update 7 p.m.: Jersey Central Power & Light reports no power outages adjacent to the locations where the firefighters are battling the blaze.

Update 6:57 p.m.: The front of the Funtown arcade has collapsed.

Update: 6:51 p.m.: The Breaking News Network is reporting crews attempted to cut off the fire by destroying the boardwalk at Lincoln Avenue, but the fire has since jumped the cut and is continuing to spread. But Chief Boyd of Seaside Heights says a second fire break at Lincoln Avenue is holding.

Update 6:48 p.m.: Gov. Christie will be doing a media briefing at 7 p.m. at Porter and Ocean avenues in Seaside Park. New Jersey State Fire Marshall William Kramer, Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable and Michele Brown, president of New Jersey's Economic Development Authority are expected to join him.

"Pictures and video of the fire are startling and sad given what Seaside Park and neighboring Seaside Heights have endured with Superstorm Sandy," Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said. "Governor Christie is deeply concerned and will get a first-hand look shortly at the scene, where he will be speaking further with (Seaside Park) Mayor (Robert) Matthies and (Seaside Heights) Mayor William Akers and offering the state's full resources and assistance. Our concerns and prayers are also with firefighters and first responders at the scene battling the blaze."

Update 6:40 p.m. Three Brothers pizza in Seaside Heights engulfed in flames.

Update 6:33 p.m.: Leo DiBella, owner of Bippy's Pizza at the corner of Porter and Boulevard, two blocks from the fire on the boardwalk, said he heard the fire engines at about 2 p.m.

So far police have not told him to evacuate, electricity is still on but cable has been shut off.

They are still selling pizzas.

"We just got over the hurricane and now this. We got the fire of 2013. Unbelievable," he said. "What's happening next? We're strong, we're Jersey Strong, but enough is enough. When is it going to end already?"

Update 6:27 p.m.: Southwest winds of 14 mph were blowing in Seaside Heights, with gusts to 25 mph, according to the New Jersey Weather and Climate Network. The temperature was 76 degrees.

Showers and thunderstorms were likely, according to the network. Winds of 10 to 13 mph from the south were expected to shift to from the northwest after midnight.

There was a 60 percent chance of precipitation, with rainfall of between a quarter-inch and half-inch possible, according to the network.

The National Weather Service forecast for Seaside Park calls for showers and thunderstorms before 2 a.m., then a chance of showers. Some storms could be severe, with large hail, damaging winds and frequent lightning, according to the weather service. South winds of 10 to 15 mph were expected to become northwest winds after midnight. The low is expected to be around 68.

Friday's forecast called for mostly sunny skies, with a high near 74 and northwest winds of 13 to 18 mph, according to the weather service

Update 6:26 p.m.: Dawn Thomas, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, said the agency is monitoring the incident. "Through our partners, we are communicating with area hospitals and the St. Barnabas Burn Center and advising them of the situation," she said in an email.

The situation is currently under the command of fire and emergency teams at the site, according to Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

"DEP is available to assist where and when needed," he said in an email. "I will not speculate on the potential environmental hazards of a fire."

Update 6:23 p.m.: Seaside Heights business administrator John Camera said he can see from helicopter footage that firefighters have accomplished "major destruction" of the boardwalk at Lincoln Avenue. Fire crews are using construction equipment to tear out sections of the boardwalk to make a fire break.

Crews went in from the beach side right at Lincoln Avenue, he said. He estimates crews will need to take out 100 feet of boardwalk, recently rebuilt with treated southern yellow pine, to prevent the fire from jumping.

Camera said he has no report of injuries.

"That's the only thing at this point we can be thankful for," he said.


Update 6:22 p.m.: Gov. Christie has arrived at the scene of the fire.

Update 6:09: Part of the Funtown Pier building has collapsed.

Update 6:05: Parts of Seaside Park and Seaside Heights without power because of raging fire.

Update 5:55: Seaside Park Council meeting scheduled for tonight has been canceled. An emergency meeting will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the Borough Hall, Sixth and Central avenues.

Update 5:47: Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato said it is too early to determine the cause of the fire.

Update 5:40: Gov. Christie is expected to arrive at 6:30 p.m. Route 37 bridge has been closed to sightseers.

Update 5:36: A condo building in Seaside Heights is now on fire, though it sits off the boardwalk and across Ocean Terrace. Chief Thomas Boyd confirmed water pressure is low because of all the crews working the fire and water is being pumped from the bay.

Update 5:33: Route 35 closed between Route 37 entrance to Seaside Heights and 24th Avenue in Berkeley. Authorities asking people to avoid the area. Jersey Central Power & Light crews are working with local emergency management authorities, a spokesman said.

Shortly after 3:40 p.m., New Jersey Natural Gas turned off the gas main east of Ocean Terrace in Seaside Heights, spokeman Michael Kinney said. It serves a two-block radius from Porter to DuPont avenues and east to the boardwalk. No residential customers were affected, the spokesman said.

Update 5:30 Gov. Chris Christie is on way to Seaside Park fire.

Update: 5:24 Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd said water is being pulled from Barnegat Bay to fight the blaze.

Update: 5:18 Seaside Park Mayor Robert Matthies said that at about 5 p.m., about eight blocks of Seaside Park and Seaside Heights were on fire.

"They're trying to contain it as best as they can," Matthies said.

Concern is growing as flames have crossed Ocean Avenue to the west and threatened homes there.

Firefighters from the central portion of the state have responded, personnel from the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst as well as Coast Guard cutters are at the scene, he said.

"A combination of the worst elements at one time" are contributing to the massive blaze, Matthies said.

Firefighters are attempting to break the fire by removing sections of boardwalk and other fuel in the way of the flames, he said.

5 p.m. Seaside Heights firefighters will use construction equipment to remove sections of the town's newly rebuilt boardwalk in hopes of stopping the advance of the blaze, borough administrator John Camera said.

Shortly after 5 p.m., officials on the scene indicated that the fire jumped across Ocean Avenue and condominiums in the area are now burning.

As of 4:53 p.m., southwest winds were blowing at 16 mph in Seaside Heights and gusting to 29 mph, according to the New Jersey Weather and Climate Network.

Crews are taking the construction equipment onto the boardwalk at Franklin Avenue with the intent of getting as close to Dupont Avenue as possible, Camera said. That appears to be the farthest north the intense flames have reached, but thick black smoke pouring from the fire is obstructing the view.

Firefighters are also putting water on buildings and boardwalk in the path of the fire to prevent the spread of fire, Camera said.

"As it continues to burn the boardwalk and out buildings, it is very, very hard to stop. There is so much wood structure up there," he said. "Right now we can't say much other than they are doing their best to contain an out-of-control fire."

WABC reported that Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd said several firefighters and residents were being treated at the scene for smoke inhalation

A fire that started at Kohr's frozen custard in Seaside Park and spread to other boardwalk businesses, including FunTown Pier, has now reached Seaside Heights, Police Chief Francis Larkin said.

Emergency personnel first arrived at the boardwalk at about 2:30 p.m. for a report of smoke. A plume of gray smoke now stretches as far north as Ortley Beach as fire crews fight to douse the blaze. The cause of a fire is still unclear.

The fire quickly compromised buildings on the west side, including what was left of FunTown Pier. The fire has visibly spread to the eastern side of the boardwalk, moving north. A strong wind has worsened the firefighters' attempts, Larkin said.

The Breaking News Network is reporting that the main fire building has collapsed and Seaside Park and Seaside Heights water service are pumping at capacity. The network also reported Seaside Park Mayor Robert Matthies stated the south half of the boardwalk is on fire.

The network states the fire has reached six alarms and caused fires at buildings as far as four blocks away. Jackson, Manchester and Bayville firefighters were called in to assist.

In addition, Lavallette and Toms River are also assisting Seaside Park and Seaside Heights firefighters, said Cpl. Steven Shadiack with Seaside Park Police Department.

Officials believe the fire started at the boardwalk near Stockton Avenue, but spread north to Seaside Heights because of the high winds, Shadiack said.

Three or four stands have been compromised so far, he said.

Seaside Park's boardwalk survived superstorm Sandy and did not have to be rebuild like the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, Shadiack said. But the two sections connect.

Crowds have gathered along the beach and nearby streets to watch. Police tape was put up to keep them back.

It did not rain in Seaside Heights Thursday, and winds were from the west-southwest, with gusts to 17 mph, between 1:53 p.m. and 2:53 p.m. Thursday, according to the New Jersey Weather and Climate Network.

Winds shifted to from the south by 3:53 p.m., with gusts to 23 mph, according to the network.

Jim Bunker, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service Mount Holly Office, said "We've got a pretty significant line of thunderstorms (that will be) moving through here, probably in a couple of hours."

Ocean County is under a severe thunderstorm watch until 10 p.m., along with other New Jersey counties, according to the weather service.

Larkin said a strong wind has worsened the blaze and sent embers blowing, sparking small but controllable fires elsewhere.

The fire has spread from Kohr's to most of the buildings between Stockton to Farragut avenues in Seaside Park, Larkin said.

"You can feel it from a block away it's so hot," he said.

We have reporters and photographers at the scene and will be updating this breaking news story. Come back to www.app.com for more updates and see Friday's Asbury Park Press for complete coverage.

Send your photos and videos of the scene to newstips@app.com or upload them at APP.com/share.

Staff writers Kristi Funderburk, Erik Larsen, Amanda Oglesby and Todd B. Bates contributed to this report.

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