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Massive fire hits Jersey shore already ravaged by hurricane

Onlookers watched as firefighters worked on a fire on  Seaside Heights, N.J., boardwalk.

Bob Bielk/The Asbury Park Press/Associated Press

Onlookers watched as firefighters worked on a fire on Seaside Heights, N.J., boardwalk.

SEASIDE PARK, N.J. — A raging fire destroyed much of an iconic Jersey shore boardwalk that had just been rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy, but a last-ditch effort to halt its spread by ripping out boards that had yet to burn succeeded in saving the rest of it Thursday.

The wind-whipped fire devoured eight blocks of boardwalk — four each in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights — and destroyed dozens of boardwalk businesses and caused millions in damages to the economic lifeblood of the twin tourist spots.

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The Hail Mary effort to save the remainder of the boardwalk began in the evening when public works crews ripped out a 25-foot swath of boardwalk to serve as a makeshift fire break, depriving the blaze of fuel. They then filled the void with giant sand piles.

‘‘That appears to have done the trick,’’ said Seaside Park Mayor Robert Matthies.

No serious injuries were reported.

Authorities had not officially declared the fire under control shortly before 10 p.m., but firefighters had made significant progress: flames that had leapt 50 feet into the afternoon sky were gone; only small pockets of fire remained to be doused.

Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the Ocean County prosecutor’s Office, said there was no immediate indication of whether the fire appeared to be suspicious or accidental.

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The 6-alarm blaze began in the area of a frozen custard stand on the Seaside Park portion of the boardwalk. Fanned by 15-20 mile-per-hour winds from an approaching storm system, it quickly spread north into Seaside Heights, the boardwalk town where the MTV series ‘‘Jersey Shore’’ was filmed — and where the October storm famously plunged a roller coast into the ocean.

The blaze destroyed all 32 businesses on the Seaside Park portion of the boardwalk, borough Councilwoman Nancy Koury said. An undetermined number of additional boardwalk businesses in Seaside Heights also were burned.

The livelihoods of the two popular Jersey shore communities depend on summer tourism and they had just spent millions of dollars rebuilding their boardwalks, arcade games, pizza stands and bar and grills to be ready for the summer season. Seaside Heights rushed to rebuild its boardwalk in time for a May visit by Britain’s Prince Harry, and finished with only hours to spare.

‘‘It’s devastating; I’ve been crying all afternoon,’’ said Shirley Kreszl, who has rented a summer home in Seaside Park for decades. ‘‘Haven’t we been hit enough? We try to rebuild and just when we think we saved a little bit of our town, this happens. It’s just not fair.’’

Governor Chris Christie, who raced to the fire scene, was typically blunt describing his thoughts: ‘‘I feel like I want to throw up.”

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