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Christie Administration Descends On Fire-Ravaged Seaside As Recovery Continues

No cause is known, and an investigation continues

As business owners and residents recover from a devastating blaze, the Christie Administration is holding Mobile Cabinet Monday for those impacted by Thursday’s Boardwalk fire.

The mobile cabinet will be held at the Seaside Municipal Complex at 116 Sherman Avenue in Seaside Heights from 3 to 9 p.m., just blocks away from where the fire scorched more than 20 business and left the popular attraction in mostly ruins.

Representatives from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA), the New Jersey Department of State’s Business Action Center (BAC) and the Governor’s Office of Constituent Relations as well as the Departments of Banking and Insurance, Environmental Protection, Community Affairs, Treasury, Transportation and Labor & Workforce Development will be on hand to provide information and assistance.

In addition, the Department of Human Services will have crisis counselors in the Seaside area to provide emotional support. Counseling will be available at the Seaside Heights Community Center at Bay and Hancock Avenues from 3 to 9:00 p.m. Monday andT uesday, and into the week, if necessary.

No cause has been determined in the devastating fire that scorched what was left of the Sandy-damaged Funtown Pier, and many other popular attractions.

The Ocean County Prosecutor's Office also refrained from labeling the fire suspicious, but officials say the investigation continues.

Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, said there was a minor rekindling of the fire overnight, but the blaze has been contained. 

"This is to be expected," he said. "On-scene units have the fire contained and are staying on top of minor flare ups."

Nearly a year after Hurricane Sandy ripped the Jersey Shore apart, Gov. Chris Christie pledged Friday to once again rebuild Seaside Heights after the fire.

Christie, speaking at Porter and Ocean avenues near the worst of the damage from the fire, said an investigation into the fire continues as the Shore town—still recovering from Sandy—now had to deal with the "unthinkable."

"My heart goes out to them," he said. "That’s why I’m here.”

Christie thanked firefighters for their bravery in battling the inferno for hours, putting up with 30-mph winds and blazing heat generated by densely-built structures with tar roofs burning out of control.

Firefighters ultimately dug a 20 foot-wide trench at Lincoln Avenue in Seaside heights that proved to be the one tactic that stopped the massive boardwalk blaze in its tracks Thursday—a "decisive moment," Christie said.

Damaged infrastructure left from Hurricane Sandy forced firefighters to use a borrowed pumping system from Union County to draw between 5,000 and 6,000 gallons of water per minute from Barnegat Bay—and even motel swimming pools—to douse the flames that raged on for hours.

The fire was largely placed under control by 10 p.m. Thursday night, though firefighters will remain on scene through the weekend, Christie said, to douse remaining hot spots.

Three Seaside Park police officers ending a grueling all-night shift dealing with the fire were seriously injured in an accident on O Street this morning, a spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office said.

One of the three officers has been released from the hospital, and the other two are improving, according to Ocean County officials.

At 11 a.m. Friday, crews were still spraying water on flare-ups near the Three Brothers Pizza shop, as well as other businesses in the approximately five block radius that was devastated by the fire, which officials said began in the Kohr's frozen custard stand in Seaside Park.

Local organizations were reaching out to try to help both first responders and those affected affected by the fire; The People's Pantry in Toms River put out a call for Gatorade and protein bars to help firefighters, and requested donations to help the response.

Business that were affected by the fire, Christie said in an address to reporters, were mostly destroyed.

In all, about 400 firefighters came to Seaside Park and Seaside Heights from around the state Thursday, and 100 remained on scene Friday. At its peak, there were more than 70 fire engines on scene.

"When New Jerseyans call New Jerseyans, they don't think twice," said Christie, complimenting the statewide response to the fire that included firefighting agencies and EMS squads from more than 50 miles away. "That's what it means to be from New Jersey."

Christie said the investigation into what caused the fire would be led by the Ocean County Prosecutor's office with help from both state and federal agencies, including Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. He said he has been in contact with the White House, though he has yet to peak with President Barack Obama.

The investigation into the fire will begin Friday and likely take several days, officials at the scene said.

Christie said he would not comment on what sparked the blaze, and urged the public to make no inferences into what happened based on the law enforcement agencies tasked with investigating.

The immediate priority, the governor said, was to complete the investigation and quickly demolish blocks of dangerous, burnt-out building along the oceanfront.

"We're going to do everything we can to assist the business owners do what they have to rebuild," he said. "We have an obligation now to get aggressive and rebuild.

Rep. Jon Runyan spent time in Seaside to tour the damage and meet with local officials and first responders, and said he's committed to doing what he can in Congress to help on the ground.

“This is an absolute tragedy for the Seaside community, its residents, and businesses, especially after the enormous success of the towns’ post-Sandy rebuilding efforts," Runyan said in a statement. "I have been in contact with several government agencies determining how federal assistance can be provided to Seaside.

"Touring the damage on the boardwalk earlier today was an all-too-familiar scene. However, I can assure you that I will fight to ensure that Seaside rebuilds stronger than ever before.”

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. Thursday, was “a worst-case scenario,” according to fire officials.

"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.

"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.

Mac September 16, 2013 at 12:26 PM
Almost everything about the fire takes place in Seaside Park yet almost everything reported is referred to as Seaside Heights. Perhaps it's still a sensitive issue with our Governor since he missed so much civil rights abuse in the park when he was the US Prosecutor plotting his run for Governor. Or maybe it's just his fondness for Ritacco and Ritacco's educational financing reform programs that he'd prefer to keep under wraps. Whatever, the Governor definitely wants to be associated with Seaside Heights and not Seaside Park. Maybe he'll give Snooki a big hug next.
Joey Joe September 16, 2013 at 02:57 PM
@Mac - you said -- "Maybe he'll give Snooki a big hug next." Now that's something I would pay to see... I can just see her eyes bulging out of her head right now !!! thanks for the laugh!!
Mac September 16, 2013 at 09:33 PM
you're welcome :-)
proud September 16, 2013 at 10:28 PM
I'm not so sure that those are her eyes bulging out.
Outofcontrol September 16, 2013 at 10:38 PM
With so many people still homeless or living in substandard conditions as a result of Sandy throughout the State, I find it a bit offensive that the Governor has taken it upon himself to re-direct Sandy funds to a boardwalk. I feel terrible about what has happened in Seaside Park, but my neighbors need to be able to go back into their homes and none of them have received the help promised by the governor. Business is business and insurance was invented to cover the cost of the unfortunate events in Seaside Park. Time to stop hitting up the taxpayers every time the governor loses a snack stand.


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