TAGS: Jersey Shore fire, boardwalk fire, arcade fire, Seaside Park, Seaside Heights, Kim Samarelli, New Jersey Amusement Association, John Maurer, Coast to Coast Entertainment, Gary Balaban, Berkeley Sweet Shop, Gov. Chris Christie, Funtown Pier, Sandy recovery, amusement business, coin-op news
SEASIDE PARK, NJ -- As many as 50 businesses may have been destroyed in the devastating fire that tore through the Jersey Shore towns of Seaside Park and Seaside Heights on Sept. 12. The massive six-alarm fire broke out on the boardwalk at approximately 2:30 p.m. and quickly spread, fueled by wind gusts of 15 mph to 35 mph. More than 400 firefighters responded to the fire that quickly jumped across tar rooftops and fed on the newly rebuilt wooden boardwalk. Firefighters fought the blaze for some eight hours before finally getting it under control. Crews were still pouring water on hot spots Friday afternoon.
"The damage is about six blocks long. And everything along those six blocks is gone," said Kim Samarelli, executive director of the New Jersey Amusement Association, who was on the scene Thursday and Friday. "There is one building that may be salvageable."
PHOTOS by NJAA's Kim Samarelli, who was on the scene in Seaside Park.
According to local reports, the fire started in or near a frozen custard shop. Among the buildings destroyed in the blaze were the Funtown Pier, which survived Sandy's surges, and Game Room 2, operated by NJAA president John Maurer, who also owns Coast to Coast Entertainment with partner Gary Balaban. Both businessmen were reportedly out of the country when the fire occurred. The Berkeley Sweet Shop, a boardwalk landmark for decades, also perished.
"I told my staff, 'I feel like I want to throw up,'" said Gov. Chris Christie, who arrived on the scene as firefighters were still battling the blaze.
To halt the progress of the fire from advancing up the boardwalk, work crews and heavy machinery hastily tore up a 25-ft. swath of the boards to create a firebreak. Working inside the makeshift firebreak, firefighters fought the blaze that was spreading from under the wooden walkway. "Without that firebreak, we could have lost the entire boardwalk," Samarelli told Vending Times.
Blocks upwind from the fire, storeowners fought embers with garden hoses that threatened tar rooftops.
"I will not permit all the work we've done over the last 10 months to be diminished or destroyed by what happened last night," Christie said during an early morning press conference at the scene. "While we have lost a place that has provided generations of memories to our citizens, we will rebuild. We will make new memories, because that's what we do." The governor added that state grants and loans could possibly be made available to businesses lost or damaged in the blaze.
Officials have offered no statement as to the probably cause of the fire. According to Al Della Fave, spokesman for the Ocean County prosecutor, there was no immediate indication of whether the fire appeared to be suspicious or accidental. However, a full investigation is set to launch once the scene is considered safe.