Nightly News   |  September 13, 2013

Fire devastates recently revitalized N.J. boardwalk

The New Jersey shore was rebuilt less than a year after Superstorm Sandy ravaged it. Now a fire has destroyed much of what was rebuilt. NBC’s Brian Williams reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> let's bring it back to where we are standing tonight. you hear perhaps the off and on drown of television helicopters above us. for those of us who can trace childhood memories to this boardwalk and this stretch of shoreline generally, it was hard to watch pictures of yesterday's fire and not think we were watching the death of something great, at least a small piece of a great american summer tradition. we are in seaside heights tonight, just over the border from seaside park . behind us the scene of yesterday's inferno which at its height looked like a fire from another era, back how they used to burn before the days when firefighting equipment was invented. once it started there was little to stop it. it tore through the boardwalk like a blowtorch, whipped by 30 miles an hour winds, fuelled by old timbers and the tar on rooftops. it burned for hours, destroying more than 50 businesses. governor chris christie rushed to the scene and upon arrival said what a lot of people here were thinking.

>> i feel like i want to throw up.

>> reporter: it's a visceral feeling because of what they have been through here.

>> we are now overlooking some of the damage.

>> reporter: this was the place the whole world saw after sandy. it's where the jetstar rollercoaster ended upstanding alone in the water. it was ripped to pieces, but they launched a huge public works project and they rebuilt in time for this past summer. [ cheers and applause ]

>> reporter: governor christie was here to cut the ribbon. he showed us around and was proud to show off a place getting up and running.

>> i'm focused on rebuilding.

>> reporter: the very spot we stopped to talk with the governor back then was destroyed yesterday. tim hussy re-opened his french fry stand after sandy and last night was forced to watch it burn.

>> it is flattened, wrecked, gone. it's a goner. there is nothing left.

>> reporter: after sandy, john vertarosa put out a sign reading boardwalk open. after the fire, the sign was all that's left.

>> makes me wonder if i was bragging too much.

>> reporter: police chief tommy boyd who was a local hero during sandy for the number of people he rescued told us today the fire was a body blow.

>> we're taking a beating. this isn't fair. i'm waiting for the frogs and locu locusts. it feels like something out of the bible. it's heart-wrenching.

>> reporter: everybody here had a story and remembrance today, even if it was reminiscing about a favorite grandson and his favorite ice cream order.

>> he gets orange sherbet and vanilla mixed from the ice cream place . you know, it's just a piece gone.

>> reporter: the fire started near the coors ice cream stand. the cause is not the yet known. it could have been far worse. this fire was stopped only after a hail mary pass by firefighters.

>> we had a lot of very brave people risking their lives.

>> reporter: they used heavy equipment to cut away a 25-foot section of the new boardwalk, a fire break just like fighting a forest fire . but the fire was moving too fast. it skipped over it, so they cut another fire break a block away. that one held.

>> they had drawn a line in the sand and said this is where we are going to stop it.

>> reporter: this storied place faces another season of rebuilding, another mountain to climb.

>> seaside is strong. we have to re build.

>> it's going to be hard. you know, any time you get knocked down.

>> reporter: by the way, volunteer firefighters in this part of the world were all equal in this fight. 400 of them last night. and the rallying cry in this area, we are stronger than the storm. as you will see later nobody mentioned a storm and then a fire.