The blaze destroyed all 32 businesses on the Seaside Park portion of the boardwalk, borough Councilwoman Nancy Koury told The Associated Press. More than 20 other boardwalk businesses in Seaside Heights also were burned, according to Michael Loundy, the town's director of community improvements. Firefighters finally got the fire under control around 10:30 p.m. Thursday.
The livelihoods of the two popular Jersey shore resort communities depend on summer tourism and they had just spent millions of dollars rebuilding their boardwalks, arcade games, pizza stands and bar and grills to be ready for the summer season.
Seaside Heights rushed to reconstruct its boardwalk in time for a May visit by Britain's Prince Harry, and finished with only hours to spare.
"It's devastating; I've been crying all afternoon," said Shirley Kreszl, who has rented a summer home in Seaside Park for decades. "Haven't we been hit enough? We try to rebuild and just when we think we saved a little bit of our town, this happens. It's just not fair."
Gov. Chris Christie, who raced to the fire scene, was typically blunt describing his thoughts as he approached the blaze.
"I feel like I want to throw up," he said.
Koury said the fire caused several million dollars' worth of damage. At one point, she said, flames jumped across Ocean Avenue, the oceanfront street, and ignited two or three small houses but firefighters quickly doused them. A motel near the boardwalk also was engulfed in flames.
"I can't believe this is happening," Koury said as she watched the fire devour boardwalk structures. "Our small business people went through so much in the storm to get ready for summer and stay open all summer, and now it's all gone. I just can't believe it."
Officials said the fire got beneath the boardwalk, making it even more difficult to extinguish.
"It's underneath the boards, and it's coming up through the cracks," Koury said. "It's making it harder to get water on it."
Matthies said the businesses were primarily wood with tar roofs and shingles, which accelerated the fire.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC