By Chelsea Karnash, Gabriella Sacidor, Todd Quinones
SEASIDE HEIGHTS, NJ (CBS) – Hundreds of firefighters from all over New Jersey battled a large blaze on the boardwalk in Seaside Park, Ocean County. Officials say at least 50 businesses are destroyed on a six block stretch of the boardwalk, in a town that had to rebuild after Sandy.
Ocean County firefighters indicated as of 10:30 p.m. the boardwalk fire was 70 percent contained. By early Friday morning, firefighters had fully contained it.
Several firefighters suffered heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation because of the blaze that started Thursday afternoon.
“This is obviously just an unthinkable situation for us to be standing here and watching this, what’s going on behind all of you, is just unthinkable,” said Governor Chris Christie.
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Residents looked on helplessly watching the fire burn out of control.
“This is bringing tears to everybody’s eyes right now. The memories of this boardwalk just can’t be rebuilt,” eyewitness Fred Schilling said.
The fire reportedly started at the Kohr Brothers at 1800 Boardwalk on the FunTown Amusement Pier around 2:15 p.m. It quickly reached five alarms before jumping to six shortly before 4 p.m.
Exacerbating the situation, firefighters struggled getting enough water with the town’s water system still damaged from Superstorm Sandy. Water had to be pumped in from Barnegat Bay.
“It certainly seemed like it would be contained and it just got out of hand. What a shame,” eyewitness Kevin Wright said.
“We’ve come here for over 30 years and what a shame to see something like this happen,” eyewitness Willa Wright said.
It’s been nearly a year since Sandy wreaked havoc on shore towns like Seaside Park. Strong winds again this time, gusting at 30-40 mph, helped to spread the fire to engulf nearby shops and restaurants.
“We had fire embers burning under the boardwalk, we had fire embers up in the smoke column going down several blocks and landing and starting additional fires. It was a worst case scenario for a boardwalk fire here,” Ocean County Fire Coordinator Brian Gabriel said.
Some embers had blown as far as four blocks away, hitting a condo complex. That fire was put out quickly by crews and caused minor damage.
As of 3:20 p.m., explosions had been reported within the building and multiple units were being called into the scene. A large plume of black smoke was visible in the sky over much of the boardwalk looking north towards the pier. Christie later said that no gas lines had exploded during the fire.
The pier and surrounding condos were evacuated. About 400 firefighters, 35 engine companies, 15 ladder companies and a number of special services units were on scene battling the blaze.
“Right now we have firefighters and trucks from all around New Jersey working together,” said Christie. Seaside Park and Seaside Heights have support from towns in Ocean, Monmouth, Burlington, Cape May, Union, Mercer, and Atlantic counties, New Jersey State Police, and state forest firefighters. The State Division of Fire Safety is working with the local incident commander to provide any services needed. The American Red Cross has also set up on scene, providing food and water for the first responders.
“When I got my first full briefing before I left Trenton to come here, I said to my staff, ‘I feel like I want to throw up,’ and that’s me,” said Christie. “After all of the time and effort and resources we put in to help these folks of Seaside Park and Seaside Heights to rebuild…I know how I’m feeling, I can only imagine how the residents and business owners in this area are feeling. My heart goes out to them. That’s why I’m here.”
The fire line stretches from Stockton Avenue to Lincoln Avenue along the boardwalk. Christie said fire personnel have dug up the boardwalk at Lincoln Avenue and dug a 20 foot trench where firefighters are making their stand to stop the spread any further north on the boardwalk.
The damage is almost completely on the boardwalk, impacting 32 businesses on the boardwalk that span a six block length.
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“It got enormous very, very quick,” Wright said. “It must have been spreading underneath the boardwalk to the various locations because that and we had a good strong wind this afternoon. We came down yesterday for a couple days to take advantage of the nice weather and we could not have been sitting more than a couple of feet away from where the fire started. Wind was whipping up pretty good today.”
“For people in the public….Do not come here, do not travel, stay away,” said Christie. “We are still trying to bring more fire equipment in here…We need to have easy access to this area of the boardwalk.”
“Pictures and video of the fire are startling and sad given what Seaside Park and neighboring Seaside Heights have endured with Superstorm Sandy…Our concerns and prayers are also with firefighters and first responders at the scene battling the blaze,” said Michael Drewniak, Press Secretary to Governor Chris Christie.
Officials say several residents were also treated for smoke inhalation.
There is no speculation on the cause of the fire.
Seaside Park was hit hard by Superstorm Sandy. Parts of the boardwalk had been replaced just days before Memorial Day weekend.
“This is us. As soon as this is over, we’ll pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and get back to work,” said Christie.
Stay with CBSPhilly.com for more on this developing story.