New Jersey News
Chris Christie plans $15M in aid after Seaside Park boardwalk fire
SEASIDE PARK, New Jersey -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pledged $15 million in state aid Saturday for businesses damaged by a massive boardwalk fire in a shore community just getting back on its feet after Superstorm Sandy.
Christie met privately with 30 of the more than 50 business owners who suffered losses in Thursday's fire in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights, promising an aggressive response to haul away rubble from the fire and help them rebuild again.
"We had two days to feel sad about this, and it is legitimately a sad thing. But we've got work to do now. A couple days to mourn, now we've got to move on and get back to work," Christie said.
Christie's office said the New Jersey Economic Development Authority board plans to extend an initial $15 million from programs offered to help in the recovery from Sandy. Those funds would be made available whether or not the fire-damaged businesses were affected by Sandy, according to the Christie administration.
"It was critical that we move quickly to aid the Seaside business community, which was still struggling to recover from Superstorm Sandy," said Michele Brown, CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, which is expected to formally take action at a meeting Wednesday.
The wind-whipped fire destroyed dozens of ocean-front businesses, including bars, pizza places and T-shirt shops and shot flames 50 feet into the air. Public works crews had to rip up part of the boardwalk to create a makeshift fire break, robbing the advancing flames of fuel. The crews piled sand in the breech creating dunes to hold back fire rather than water.
During his visit Saturday, Christie also greeted residents, many of whom thanked the governor for coming to the shore town that was still recovering from Sandy when disaster struck again.
"I wouldn't be anyplace else," Christie said, having canceled a weekend getaway to Florida to celebrate his wife's birthday. "When a crisis happens you have to be here to help organize things, to lend encouragement and deliver help."
The good news, if there is any, Christie said, is that the fire was contained before it engulfed the entire boardwalk.
"This could have been significantly worse. We have about four blocks that were taken out, and for those people on those four blocks, it's awful. But, we could have lost all of this," he said, gesturing to a portion of the boardwalk untouched by the flames.
It cost millions of dollars to get the Jersey shore up and running again after Sandy struck in late October 2012, and now this fire has devastated much of what was rebuilt in the past year.
"We just reopened June 1, went through the whole summer trying to stay open, and now this happens," said Daniel Shauger, manager of Funtown Arcade, which was one of 32 Seaside Park boardwalk businesses damaged in the fire. "We're wiped out again. It's just unimaginable."
He said business was down by two-thirds this summer because of the fallout from Sandy, which filled his arcade with water and sand and ruined inventory, game machines and computers.
"It was just enough to survive," Shauger said. "We were really looking forward to next year. And we're still looking forward to next year."
The fire began around 2:30 p.m. Thursday and appeared to start under the south end of the boardwalk. The sheer volume of flames was astonishing to all who witnessed it.
In minutes, roaring and snapping with 30 mile per hour winds behind it, the fire had quickly spread down the boardwalk. It sent embers flying onto tar roofs that burned like cans of gasoline.
More than 400 firefighters were rushed in from across the state, from as far south as Cape May, to battle the fire for hours in an almost fruitless effort to wrangle the flames under control.
They fought the heat, the wind and a shortage of water. The hydrant system on the barrier island is still a shambles, wrecked by Sandy, so long lines had to be run to pump water out of Barnegat Bay.
"There's not much left" in the affected areas, said Brian Gabriel, Ocean County's fire coordinator. "It looks like a couple of bombs went off. It's pretty much complete devastation."
Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, said there was no indication Friday that the fire appeared suspicious, though a cause had not been determined.
It could have been much worse. On Thursday, as the fire pushed northward despite the frantic efforts of firefighters to contain it, Seaside Heights officials tried a Hail Mary: They ripped out a 25-foot swath of the boardwalk they had just finished rebuilding. And they filled the void with giant sand piles - makeshift dunes designed to halt the spread of flames and save the northern portion of the boardwalk.
Some information from the Associated Press
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