A raging fire that apparently started in a custard shop tore through a New Jersey shore boardwalk Thursday, destroying more than 30 businesses in a tourist mecca just recovering from the damage it sustained in Superstorm Sandy.
At a press conference Thursday evening, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie described the situation as “just unthinkable” and told New Jersey residents to stay away from the area. Christie said that strong winds were making the fire difficult to get under control
Flames and thick black smoke billowed from a long stretch of the boardwalk in Seaside Park, collapsing buildings as the fire quickly spread north into neighboring Seaside Heights, where the MTV reality series "Jersey Shore" was filmed.
Firefighters were still dousing the remains of the fire well into Thursday night, which appeared to have lessened in intensity. Seaside Park Mayor Robert Matthies says "it certainly looks like it's been suppressed."
Seaside Park Councilwoman Nancy Koury told the Associated Press the fire had taken out about 32 businesses.
MyFoxPhilly.com reported that the fire started at approximately 2:30 p.m. ET. Firefighters finally got the fire under control around 10:30 p.m. Thursday.
As it raged for hours after it started, authorities said several firefighters and residents were being treated for smoke inhalation. There were no other early reports of any injuries.
"It's raging," said real estate agent Michael Loundy, who works on tourism-related projects with the borough of Seaside Heights as he watched fire companies battle the flames. "It is absolutely raging. The wind is blowing something fierce, making it very difficult for firefighters to fight."
The flames swept through new boardwalk wood that had just been put in place days before Memorial Day weekend as the shore towns raced to recover from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy.
Much of the Seaside Heights boardwalk was destroyed then, and a roller coaster that plunged off a damaged amusement pier became a defining image of the storm.
"This is another tremendous wrench in the recovery," Seaside Park Mayor Robert Matthies said.
"Pictures and video of the fire are startling and sad given what Seaside Park and neighboring Seaside Heights have endured with Superstorm Sandy," Gov. Christie's press office said in a statement. "Our concerns and prayers are also with firefighters and first responders at the scene battling the blaze."
Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd said a section of boardwalk was being removed to create a fire line to keep the blaze from spreading. He said the fire created embers the size of a fist.
The fire is believed to have started in a Kohr's custard shop.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.