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Friday, September 13, 2013

Pizza Shop Owner Devastated By Boardwalk Fire

(Marc R./Yelp)

(Marc R./Yelp)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says the massive fire that destroyed part of an iconic Jersey shore boardwalk in two towns is 95 percent contained.

Christie said Friday it could take days to extinguish “hot pockets” at the scene.

One of the businesses destroyed in the fire was Maruca’s Tomato Pies.

“We had smelled some smoke and then within a minute or so, the smoke raced right up the boardwalk and essentially pulled our entire building,” owner Joe Maruca told Here & Now, noting that he rents the property. He moved into that location after Superstorm Sandy destroyed his previous location.

The shop posted on its Facebook page, “Although this yet another vast setback, we will push even harder to return. We will be back! Once again we would like to thank and pray for the first responders and firemen who worked hard and risked their lives for the safety of others.”

Firefighters are continuing to pour thousands of gallons of water on the smoldering remnants of the massive fire. Officials are counting the cost of once again rebuilding a walkway that had been wrecked less than a year ago by Superstorm Sandy.

About 100 firefighters remain on the scene, and heavy equipment is poised to move in and start poking through the rubble once firefighters extinguished the last burning pockets.

Authorities say the fire that raged for eight hours had destroyed about five blocks of boardwalk in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights and has leveled 32 businesses in Seaside Park alone.

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this article.


  • Joe Maruca, owner of Maruca’s Tomato Pies, which was destroyed in the fire in Seaside Park, N.J.



From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti, in for Robin Young Jeremy Hobson.


I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. We'll begin this hour in New Jersey. Officials along a stretch of the Jersey Shore are investigating a six-alarm blaze that destroyed at least 30 businesses last night and parts of the state's famed boardwalk.

CHAKRABARTI: The fire was contained to the communities of Seaside Park and Seaside Heights, both of which were hit hard by Superstorm Sandy almost a year ago. No deaths were reported, but as we said a great deal of loss. Joe Maruca lost his business, Maruca's Tomato Pies, once to Superstorm Sandy and again in last night's fire.

And Joe, I'm really sorry, I'm so sorry to hear about your business.

JOE MARUCA: Thank you very much.

CHAKRABARTI: So where were you yesterday when the fire began?

MARUCA: I was actually working in the store, sitting with a couple of customers, actually, and we had smells of smoke. Next thing you know we had seen the smoke coming south of us. And then within a minute or so, the smoke raced right up the boardwalk and eventually filled our entire building.

So we just put our doors down and just left. This all happened within a minute.

CHAKRABARTI: Within a minute?

MARUCA: It happened, yes, very quickly. The rest, as they say, is history.

CHAKRABARTI: Have you been able to be back inside the building or what's left of it?

MARUCA: No, you can't get anywhere near the building. You know, there's a lot of areas cordoned off and so on. There's no way to get anywhere near there currently. And this is an area, like I said, we had just reopened April 20th after Superstorm Sandy. So it's a jolt for everyone.

And my hearts go out to the first responders. They did the best they can. A lot of these people, they were displaced by the storm also. And a lot of residents here are still displaced. Like I said, our hearts go out to them. But it's a strong group down here. People bind together here. Now we're looking forward to just continuing the rebuilding process and moving forward, and then that has been derailed, as they say.

CHAKRABARTI: I have to say I am beyond impressed by your resilience here, having to get up after, you know, hit after hit. So what are you going to do next? What's the first step in rebuilding for you and the store?

MARUCA: In our particular instance, it's a family-owned business. We rented the concession that we were at that was destroyed. So we'll tell it to our legal people. If they're intended to rebuild, I assume they would be, we'd be more than happy to go back there because we've been on the boardwalk for 63 years. And it's more than just a place to go to get pizza.

It's place to - people to meet. I met my wife on the boardwalk, actually. So it's a place where people come. It brings back memories. A lot of memories were destroyed. Like I said, it's our intent to rebuild, obviously.

CHAKRABARTI: Well Joe Maruca of Maruca's Tomato Pies, which was destroyed in that fire yesterday, Mr. Maruca, thanks so much, and good luck to you.

MARUCA: You're quite welcome. Thank you for your time. Be well.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is also intent on rebuilding. He said today that he's not going to let the fires derail efforts that were already underway after Superstorm Sandy.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: I will not permit all the work that we've done over the last 10 months to be diminished or destroyed by what happened last night. We're going to get back on our feet. We're going to do what we need to do. Tracey Samuelson, reporter for HERE AND NOW contributor station WHYY, joins us now from the scene of the fire. And Tracey, from where you're standing, what does the damage look like?

TRACEY SAMUELSON: Well, I'm at the southern end of the boardwalk in Seaside Park, and the damage is pretty comprehensive. There are a couple fire crews still working to put out some hotspots. There's a fireman up on a ladder with a hose aiming down at one of the pizza places on the boardwalk.

But we heard from Governor Christie today that estimates are 30 businesses were destroyed in this fire across four blocks here.

CHAKRABARTI: Do we know anything more about the cause of the fire?

SAMUELSON: We do not, and that is what Governor Christie said was going to be his first step. He has a team of 20 to 30 investigators here from agencies across the state, and they have secured the area. They are collecting evidence. All fire scenes are treated as a crime scene until it's determined otherwise. So they will be - that is priority number one, determining the cause.

CHAKRABARTI: Now did the governor say anything about what additional steps or first steps will be taken as crews continue to work on the scene? I mean, how soon will they be able to rebuild?

SAMUELSON: He said there will be members of his administration down here as early as tomorrow helping these businesses begin the process of filing insurance claims and to get rebuilding underway. So first we have the investigation. Quickly on the heels of that we have insurance claims, beginning that process. And the governor said, you know, that further down the line he can explore programs if it comes to that.

CHAKRABARTI: Tracey, we've got about 30 seconds to go here, but have you talked to any other members of the community? They must be exhausted after disaster after disaster.

SAMUELSON: Exactly. They sort of feel like how much more can one community take here. But I will say I ran across a man cleaning up the streets today, a manager at one of the local hotels, and he said, you know, we live together, we survived the storm together, and we'll rebuild together.

CHAKRABARTI: That's Tracey Samuelson, reporter for WHYY, speaking to us from the scene of the New Jersey boardwalk fire. Thank you so much, Tracey.

SAMUELSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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