The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

September 13, 2013

Dunes save boardwalk from fire not flood this time

SEASIDE PARK, N.J. (AP) — Despite its destruction, Superstorm Sandy proved one thing at the Jersey shore: sand dunes save boardwalks from deadly storms.

On Thursday, as a raging fire erupted on a newly rebuilt boardwalk in two shore resort towns, some makeshift sand dunes saved part of it — from fire this time.

The fire that broke out near a frozen custard stand in Seaside Park rapidly spread north into neighboring Seaside Heights, the former home of MTV's "Jersey Shore" reality show. With a stiff wind whipping the flames and driving them from block to block, the rest of the iconic boardwalk was in danger of going up in flames.

So Seaside Heights officials tried a Hail Mary: they ripped out a 25-foot swath of the boardwalk they had just finished rebuilding five months earlier. And they filled the void with giant sand piles — makeshift dunes designed to halt the spreads of flames and save the northern portion of the boardwalk upon which the community relied for its financial survival.

It worked.

In much the same way as forest fire crews rip out vegetation to deprive an advancing fire of fuel, the boardwalk gambit succeeded in halting the fire's extension any further into Seaside Heights.

"That appears to have done the trick," said Seaside Park Mayor Robert Matthies.

Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the Ocean County prosecutor's Office, said there was no immediate indication of whether the fire appeared to be suspicious or accidental. The first priority was putting it out and securing the scene, he said. A detailed investigation was due to get underway on Friday.

The 6-alarm blaze, fanned by 15-20 mph winds from an approaching storm system, quickly spread north into Seaside Heights, where the October storm famously plunged a roller coast into the ocean.

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