By RYAN MCGRATH
Faulty electrical wires caused the blaze that leveled businesses across four blocks of the Seaside Heights boardwalk, officials said. Less than a year after Super Storm Sandy devastated the Jersey Shore, the fire that broke out at a Kohr’s Frozen Custard in Seaside Heights Sept. 12 immediately spread to dozens of local businesses near the shop.
While there was initial speculation of arson as the cause of the fire, Ocean County Prosecutors during a brief news conference on Sept. 17 confirmed that the blaze that started at the custard stand was caused by an electrical wiring malfunction. Around 2 p.m. on Sept. 12, news of the fire began to come in through the Jersey Shore Hurricane News Facebook page, with in updated coverage leading into the night.
The fire initially destroyed more than 20 Seaside Heights and Seaside Park businesses.
“When I first heard the news about the fire at Kohr’s, I honestly did not think much of it, assuming it would be put out soon,” said Forked River resident David Coppola, 21. “An hour late I checked Facebook again and found out that it was still burning ; I realized that this was not an ordinary fire.”
Coppola was one of many Ocean County residents who kept up the coverage of the fire throughout the afternoon as the fire was being put out.
“I could even see the large plume of smoke from a bay side location in my town, which is about 20 minutes south of Seaside and across from Island Beach State Park. The fire was shocking, completely surreal,” Coppola said.
Immediately after the fire continued to rapidly spread throughout the boardwalk, many first responders from across the state who were on the scene, helping out local officials with taking out the blazing fire. There were 400 firefighters from 35 engine companies and 15 ladder companies from Monmouth, Burlington, Atlantic and Cape May counties in a briefing made by Governor Chris Christie at 7 p.m. on Thursday. The damage to the boardwalk alone is expected to be at least $1.88 million.
Toms River resident Shawn Smith, 28, first heard about the news through a colleague reporter from the Jersey Shore Patch and, just like anyone else who may have first heard of the boardwalk blast either through social media or word of mouth, did not expect the worst at first.
“I didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it was, and as I followed on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, I saw that the alarm codes kept going up,” Smith said, “It went from a six-alarm fire to a ten-alarm fire within an hour. I was shocked.”
For Smith, his reaction to the news of the fire left a bigger impact. As an intern for his town’s hyper-local patch site, Smith was a beat reporter covering local stories around Seaside Heights this past summer, along with building relationships with a few business owners who heavily impacted by fire.
“I loved every minute of it, getting to know the locals as well as the out-of-towners,” Smith said. “The business owners loved getting coverage and free publicity, and I loved having stories to cover.”
This past weekend, Governor Christie met up with dozens of business owners and local residents who were heavily impacted by the fire, announcing to provide $15 billion in aid to help local businesses rebuild their properties. Christie emphasizes the importance of financial assistance of being an important stepping-stone for Seaside’s recovery.
“The entire Seaside community has endured so much over the last year. We’re going to be with them every step of the way to help them get back on their feet and let the world know that the Seaside Boardwalk is open for business,” Christie said in a press release on Saturday.
Considering the immediate support from bordering counties during the devastation blaze, the Jersey Shore can unite together in strong numbers to overcome this adversity. With the amount of support the Jersey Shore has gained from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, many local residents, including Smith, will continue to show their support and reach out to those affected by the fire.
“I will be going down to what I can to help, even if it is being a customer and bringing business back to the Jersey Shore.” Smith said.