"It was a worst case scenario," said Brian Gabriel, the Ocean County Chief Fire Coordinator, of strong southerly winds that blew a fire northward from Seaside Park into Seaside Heights, destroying more than 20 businesses.
The blaze, which began around 2:30 p.m. at Kohr's Ice Cream in Seaside Park, was 70 percent contained by 10 p.m., Gabriel said.
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A night shift was about to come in to continue battling the flames until sunrise, he said, capping an excruciating eight hours for firefighters.
"The fire hit so hard that, in the first trench we cut, it went right over us from one roof to another building," said Gabriel.
Finally, crews cut a 20 foot-wide trench through the Seaside Heights boardwalk at Lincoln Avenue, a block north of where the fire reached, and were more successful.
"All the firefighters, from whatever towns were there, did a hell of a job stopping this thing," he said.
Shells of businesses, from the Funtown Pier arcade, to Jack and Bills bar, to the Beachcomber Bar and Grill, were being hit with high-pressure water hoses as the fire continued to flare up in certain spots.
"It looks like a war zone," said Gabriel, describing severe damage along the recently-rebuilt Seaside Heights and Seaside Park boardwalks.
Water to battle the flames was sourced from Barnegat Bay and, eventually, several other local communities, officials said. Initially there was a water shortage which prompted the Barnegat Bay action.
Firefighters will continue to put water on the flames and attack it from a number of angles, up and down the boardwalk, all night long, said Gabriel.
"We're very comfortable with the north end of the fire," he said.
Crews were working hard to tackle the southern portion of the fire, close to the spots where it began in Seaside Park.
Firefighters from as far away as Cape May, Burlington and Union counties came to assist local firefighters – including every department from Ocean County, officials said.
Between 400 and 500 firefighters were on the scene.
Gabriel said fortunately, there were only one or two minor injuries sustained by emergency workers. A few firefighters suffered from minor smoke inhalation and heat stroke.