SEASIDE PARK, N.J. – A massive fire raging for hours burned several blocks of boardwalk and businesses Thursday in a New Jersey shore town that was still rebuilding from damage caused by Superstorm Sandy.
More than three hours after the fire started in the vicinity of an ice cream shop, television footage showed flames still leaping into the sky and thick black smoke covering a stretch of the coastline. The fire was spreading into neighboring Seaside Heights, where the MTV reality series "Jersey Shore" was filmed.
Gov. Chris Christe was en route Thursday night, promising the full assistance of the state in dealing with the devastation.
"Pictures and video of the fire are startling and sad given what Seaside Park and neighboring Seaside Heights have endured with Superstorm Sandy," said the governor's spokesman, Michael Drewniak.
Television footage showed an excavator being used to dig up a section of boardwalk to create a fire line, and a fire truck drawing water from a motel swimming pool.
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."
He said fire crews were making a stand against the spread of the flames at DuPont Avenue, several blocks north of the boundary with Seaside Park to the south.
The flames were destroying new boardwalk wood that had just been replaced days before Memorial Day weekend as both towns raced to recover from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy. Much of the Seaside Heights boardwalk was destroyed, 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.
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 or near a Kohr's custard shop.
A witness told News 12 New Jersey that she saw smoke coming from under the boardwalk near those businesses, and flames quickly emerging nearby and spreading rapidly.
Janet Meisner, a Seaside Park resident, said she feared the fire could be another crippling blow to the community, which depends on the boardwalk to keep its economy going.
"It's a great place to live, and I'm praying the firefighters can get this under control as soon as possible," Meisner said as she watched the flames and the thick black smoke shoot skyward. "We had to deal with Sandy last year and now this happens. We can't catch a break."
Parry reported from Pleasantville, N.J.