OCEAN GROVE – Fire ripped through a retail strip Saturday morning at the north end of the Ocean Grove boardwalk, decimating the structure within a span of hours.
It’s not clear yet what caused the five-alarm fire that brought in resources from across Monmouth County as well as other parts of the state.
Officials saithe fire broke out under the Dunes Boardwalk Cafe, which was located at the south end of the retail strip and was believed to be unoccupied at the time.
This fire was located just a block east of the devastating 2017 Ocean Grove fire. See images of how the fire at Dunes Cafe progressed above.
Lilie McKenna was working in Jones Treasure Grove, which is the northernmost store in the strip, on the opposite end from where the fire started. She said a customer came in around 11:30 a.m. and said there was a fire underneath Dunes Boardwalk Cafe.
The customer told her he already had called the fire department. Her boss, the store owner, went out to check on things.
“We didn’t smell anything. We had no idea,” McKenna said.
McKenna said she was impressed with the firefighters. “This fire department,” she said. “They were so quick. So responsive.”
At one point, early in the battle, firefighters could be seen standing on the roof of the cafe. Ladders were set up against the adjacent building, which houses stores that sell beach gear.
Firefighters used chainsaws to cut into the walls in an attempt to reach the fire and brought in a front end loader to scoop sand from beneath the Dunes Cafe in an attempt to better reach the flames from below.
But the fire spread faster than firefighters could stop them. Flames began to shoot out of the upper part of the building.
Drone view: Ocean Grove fire destroys Dune Boardwalk Cafe
A Neptune police officer pushed back the beach crowd after yelling, “The whole thing is going to go.”
Crowds watched in awe from both the beaches and the boardwalks in both Ocean Grove and Asbury Park as the flames consumed the structure. Some spoke about their summers eating the Dunes Cafe, which housed several food booths, or recent trips to the beach themed shops in the building. Years ago the building housed the Homestead restaurant.
Loud pops and hisses could be heard coming from the building as the flames appeared to grow. Sometime after 2 p.m., the southern portion of the roof began to collapsed.
Firefighters from all over Monmouth County and northern Ocean County responded to the call for mutual aid to help battle the blaze. From North Jersey, the Elizabeth Fire Department arrived with a pump capable of delivering up to 8,000 gallons of water per minute, according to a tweet from the Sea Bright Fire Department.
Onlookers who had gathered to watch the conflagration from the boardwalk applauded as new firefighters arrived.
On the beachfront, where onlookers also gathered, an exhausted firefighter on a break knelt down in the sand to play with someone’s dog.
By 3 p.m., the fire appeared to be largely contained even as gray smoke contained to billow from the structure in 12 mph winds. That changed as part of the structure collapsed later in the afternoon, making flames visible from the rear of the building.
By evening, the charred rear of the building resembled an elaborate bonfire on the beach — prompting firefighters to bring in earth movers to wall off the fire as the debris fell onto the sand.
Meanwhile, fire companies in Asbury Park – the municipal boundary is just feet from the blaze – sought to protect the exposure to property in the event the embers were carried across to the Asbury Park Casino next door. Buildings and historical landmarks were drenched in water.
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Susanne Cervenka: 732-643-4229; [email protected]
Staff photographer Thomas P. Costello contributed to this report.
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