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Massive fire engulfs New Jersey seaside battered by Hurricane Sandy

1379093043001-boardwalk091313-028A New Jersey boardwalk that was just rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy has been destroyed again by a massive fire, with flames engulfing an ice cream shop and other buildings along the coastline in the span of just a few hours.

The blaze originated at about 2:15 pm EST at Kohr’s Ice Cream and, fueled by a strong wind to the southeast, quickly spread to at least 19 structures within 15 minutes, a Seaside Heights police officer told the New Jersey Star-Ledger.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie refused to speculate on a cause but told reporters that the fire was under control. He said a trench was dug at Lincoln Avenue, where officials hope the fire will be cut off, and that neighborhoods to the north of that point had to be evacuated. An official investigation into the cause will begin on Friday.

Approximately 400 firefighters were on the scene and while some were being treated for smoke inhalation, no serious injuries were reported.

“It’s raging,” Michael Loundry, who works on tourism-related projects with the seaside Heights community, told reporters. “It is absolutely raging. The wind is blowing something fierce, making it very difficult for firefighters to fight.”

The fire was only contained after firefighters and dozens of volunteers from the community frantically ripped out 25 feet of boardwalk to cut the fire’s fuel source. Six fire departments were on the scene and said they would continue to douse the ruined structures through the night.

The affected area of the boardwalk was heavily damaged but not completely destroyed by Hurricane Sandy last October. That so-called superstorm devastated the region, pulling a roller coaster out into the ocean in what became one of the most iconic images captured of Sandy’s wake.

Residents said the normally profitable tourist season was one of Sandy’s casualties, in no small part because of the effort it took to rebuild the boardwalk.

“The summer was soft, but it picked up toward the end,” Borough administrator John Camera said. “We ended on an uptick, and we were hoping next year will be strong.”

Mayor of Seaside Park Robert Matthies said the fire “is another tremendous wrench in the recovery.”

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