The normally bright and beautiful Seaside sunrise was tainted Saturday morning by smoke from smoldering debris. It was a blatant reminder of the devastation that had taken place less than two days ago.
On Thursday, a massive fire ripped through the Jersey Shore boardwalk, leveling four blocks of bars, pizza shops and ice cream stores. The fire raged for hours, sending fireballs into the sky over Seaside Heights and Seaside Park, reducing more than 30 businesses in the neighboring towns, still recovering from Superstorm Sandy, to charred remains.
While most of the fire is contained, firefighters are still on constant standby due to minor flare ups.
“The reports of minor rekindling overnight are correct,” said Al Della Fave of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. “This is to be expected. On scene units have the fire contained and are staying on top of minor flare ups.”
ATF investigators returned to the scene as they continue to try and find the cause of the massive blaze. At this point, they say, they have not seen any evidence that the fire was suspicious.
“No one at the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office has labeled the fire suspicious,” Fave said. “Our only comment is that the investigation continues.”
As firefighters and investigators remain at the scene, curious summer residents and tourists also gathered around the area to take pictures.
“I was not imagining the size of the fire that I saw on the news,” said Beth Anderson of Brooklyn, New York. “I was thinking it would be something small and contained.”
Two Seaside Park Police Officers are also still in the hospital after an accident on Friday on the way home from the boardwalk fire. Officials says three Seaside Park Police officers were sitting on a bench in the back of a military-type rescue vehicle when the seats gave way.
Officer Brian Jackawski, 39, Officer Chelsea Richard, 26, and Officer Daniel Reale, 19, were all injured in the accident. Officer Jackawski was treated and released, Officer Reale is in stable condition and Officer Richard is in critical condition.
Governor Chris Christie also returned to the boardwalk on Saturday. Christie was treated like a rock star as he was mobbed by onlookers and well-wishers. Christie also met privately with 30 of the more than 50 business owners who suffered losses in Thursday's fire, promising an aggressive response to haul away rubble from the fire and help again rebuild the boardwalk only just replaced after Superstorm Sandy.
"We were probably 30 to 40 minutes away of losing the whole boardwalk," Christie said. "We have pieces of the boardwalk to repair and some businesses on the boardwalk to rebuild. But in the context of what we've been through already, it's much smaller."
While Christie was supposed to be in Florida this weekend celebrating his wife's birthday, he claimed he didn't feel right leaving town in the wake of the fire.
Many of the business owners who met with Christie say they were optimistic after speaking to him.
One of those owners was Eric Faranda, whose business, Shore Amusements, was destroyed in the fire. Faranda and his wife Suzie are currently paying a $50,000 loan they received to rebuild the business after it was damaged during Hurricane Sandy.
"I spoke with the governor and he absolutely has an interest and wants to help out," Faranda said. "I think he wants to make it happen."
Starting next week, crisis counselors will head to the scene to provide emotional support for those affected. Officials with the Christie administration say counseling will be available at the Seaside Heights Community Center at bay and Hancock Avenues from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and into the week if necessary.
“So many of these residents have just gone through an extended period of anxiety and uncertainly, and, now, the fire. We expect they will need emotional support,” said Disaster and Terrorism Branch (DTB) Director Adrienne Fessler-Belli. “Many business owners already have seen their livelihood threatened and may be facing more losses.”