SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. — The family behind the boardwalk’s beloved bar dipped deeply into their savings to reopen after Superstorm Sandy.
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Now, as one of 68 businesses — 35 in Seaside Heights, N.J., And 33 in Seaside Park, N.J. — Left suffering after a sudden blaze tore through five blocks of boardwalk last week, the Beachcomber Bar and Grill must close its doors again to undergo heavy renovations.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. It was an inferno,” said Mike Carbone Jr., Manager of the family-owned Beachcomber. “I told people after Sandy it looked like a war zone. This fire was like hell on earth.”.
The business, on the boardwalk at Dupont Avenue, was filling with smoke minutes into Thursday’s fire, which sparked four blocks south near a Kohr’s Frozen Custard in Seaside Park.
Fueled by wind, the fire burned north for hours, devouring whole blocks before firefighters could stop its progress. An investigation into the fire’s cause or origin remains underway. Authorities have not released their findings yet.
On Sunday, a small fire flared up during the early morning hours behind Sawmill restaurant and bar in Seaside Park, said Al Della Fave, the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office spokesman.
Seaside Park police Cpl. Steve Shadiack said members from Seaside Park and Seaside Heights police departments, the county’s Prosecutor’s Office and Sheriff’s Office, and state police have been monitoring the affected area since it was considered contained at 11 p.M. Thursday in case of the fire rekindling.
That monitoring will continue for at least another few days as the investigation into the origin and cause of the fire continue, Shadiack said. Once the investigation is complete, crews can come in with heavy machinery to start to clean up the debris that has been smoldering, he said.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is holding a mobile cabinet meeting in Seaside Heights on Monday. Businesses owners and residents with questions about the fire or Sandy can attend.
The fire reduced most of the businesses — where thousands flocked this summer to dine, shop or play — to smoldering debris and broken walls. Beachcomber and the Sawmill Cafe, each of which had suppression systems to help stave the flames, are among the only remaining structures in the line of wreckage.
Carbone said their second floor is probably a total loss, but the main floor only sustained water damage and could reopen fairly quickly.
“We came back after the storm, and we’re going to come back after the fire,” he said.
State and federal officials have vowed to help the boroughs rebuild, though some business owners are already questioning their insurance options after a second disaster in 11 months.
Meanwhile, reality has begun to sink into the minds of the business owners not directly affected by the fire.
“If they don’t rebuild the boardwalk, I think this business is going to be just as bad as any other business that burned down,” said Maureen Kassteen, 62, owner of Seaside Best Rentals, which oversees Ocean Terrace Condominiums and Rentals, a complex across the street from the southernmost area of boardwalk businesses in Seaside Park.
This summer, Kassteen estimated her business lost half of its revenue because of poor weather and the aftermath of Sandy. Finally, bookings picked up in August, but then last week’s inferno happened.
“Any later than today not knowing what’s going to happen, it’s going to affect our business,” she said. “We do a lot with proms coming in June, and they’re booking now. We lost a lot of business last year because of Sandy. Now, this year, people aren’t going to book.”.
One block south of Kassteen, Cheryl Raley’s Charloy Motel only booked 13 of its 45 rooms despite the beautiful weekend weather.
“I should’ve been full last night,” Raley said. “Do I get anything out of this? My insurance won’t cover anything because I have no damage. I’m just screwed.”.
Raley further criticized a police barricade, which she said posed an inconvenience to any potential guests who would normally park and unload their cars in her motel’s parking lot.
“They’re costing us thousands upon thousands of dollars this weekend,” said Diane Smith, who works for Raley. “We rely on filling our Saturdays and Sundays with walk-ins.”.