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Raging fire devastates New Jersey boardwalk already hit by Superstorm Sandy

New Jersey resort towns were still in the process of rebuilding after Sandy hit a year previously

A raging fire that erupted on a newly rebuilt boardwalk in two seaside New Jersey resort towns has caused millions of dollars in damage and destroyed more than 50 businesses in the area.

The fire devastated the Seaside Park section of the boardwalk on Thursday, but makeshift sand dunes saved the northern portion in neighboring Seaside Heights.

The boardwalk had previously been hit by Superstorm Sandy a year ago, and the shore town was still in the process of rebuilding the area. 

Television pictures showed a vast pillar of black smoke streaming north under winds gusting to 40 miles per hour (65 km per hour). Flames shot through roofs of buildings as firefighters poured streams of water from ladders into the blaze.

Authorities say there is no immediate indication whether the fire, understood to have broken out in an ice cream shop at the Seaside Park, was suspicious or accidental. An investigation into the causes is to begin today.

Seaside Park borough Councilwoman Nancy Koury said local business owners worked hard to recover from Sandy's devastation, but now “it's all gone.”

John Saaddy, a business owner in nearby Seaside Heights, New Jersey, said the fire raced through a “fire highway” under the boardwalk.

Speaking to CNN, he added: “There was no way for the water from the top to come down into the beams underneath. So it was basically a big chase, and it spread. Incredibly, in one hour I watched three blocks catch fire.

Additional reporting by Associated Press