With casino revenues already largely in the toilet for the majority of Atlantic City’s land casinos, and the gambling town still recovering from last year’s devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy – which shut down many of the city’s casinos for days – the last thing this New Jersey town needed was any proximity at all to yet another disaster. And with last week’s horrific Boardwalk fire in the Seaside Heights area – not directly connected to AC, but along the same 217-mile stretch of Atlantic shoreline that is frequented by many of the same tourists and locals – one can’t help but wonder if Atlantic City may also need an exorcist or to put blood on its casino walls for a passover of the apparently ongoing plagues that are being doled out from on high.
Or maybe, wooden boardwalks – while charming when built 150 years ago – are simply not a safe building material in the modern world. Fire experts are, in fact, now saying the destructive fire appears to have been an episode of arson, though the motivation is unclear.
More Damage after Sandy
New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie, upon visiting the fire scene that destroyed many boardwalk buildings, referred to it as an “unthinkable situation”. It took more than 400 firefighters and 35 engine companies to finally extinguish the raging inferno. The damage extended over six blocks and 20 businesses – many just rebuilt from the Sandy disaster – were destroyed. While no casinos were affected, one can’t help but assume this will not do anything to help Atlantic City’s ailing revenues.
Following Sandy – during which the world-famous Jet Star roller coaster was torn and tossed into the ocean’s water by the intense storm – the FunTown Pier on which it rested had finally reopened for business this summer. Those repairs cost Seaside Heights – most famous as the hangout for the infamous TV “Jersey Shore” crowd – $8 million for boardwalk repairs and a total of $16 million for all the damage done to Seaside Heights, according to the city’s mayor, Bill Akers.
In 2012, the “Jersey Shore” cast staged a fundraiser to help rebuild the boardwalk following Sandy with the inevitable MTV live event from Times Square.
The fire apparently started in a frozen custard shop on a weekday afternoon, and had become a six-alarm incendiary event by two hours later, affecting the entire FunTown Amusement Pier.
Boardwalk Fires in Atlantic City Common
The fire was just one of many that the numerous Atlantic City area-boardwalks have succumbed to in only the past 20 or so years. Because of the old wooden slats that comprise the boardwalks, the flames easily spread, making one wonder if it’s time to rebuild these walkways with a perhaps less charming, but more durable, substance.
In fact, an intense blaze back in June 2007 destroyed five stores along the Atlantic City Boardwalk and even damaged the New Jersey Casino Control Commission’s headquarters.
Five years before that, an Atlantic City fire destroyed two beach patrol storage sheds, forcing the closure of a three-block stretch of the boardwalk.
The underside of most gambling towns are many homeless, often drug-addicted people, who literally take to living “underground”: in this case, Atlantic City officials say boardwalk fires in their city have frequently been caused by homeless people living beneath the boards, who start fires to keep themselves warm at night or to cook food.
Despite the many fires, the iconic Atlantic City Boardwalk has survived for almost 150 years, and is, of course, the inspiration for the classic board game, Monopoly. When it went up in June 1870, the AC Boardwalk was one of the first of its kind in America.