Fire ravages New Jersey boardwalk a year after Sandy

Chris Christie, New Jersey Governor, says the fire is "95% contained"

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A stretch of beachside boardwalk in the US state of New Jersey has been ravaged by fire, nearly one year after Superstorm Sandy tore through the area.

The fire started near an ice cream shop on Thursday afternoon and spread quickly through buildings in two towns, authorities said.

An estimated 50 businesses were damaged or destroyed in the blaze.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called the damage "unthinkable" in areas already struggling to rebuild.

The fire started at about 14:30 local time (18:30 GMT) on Thursday and was swept northward by winds of up to 40mph (65 km/h) through the popular tourist towns of Seaside Park and Seaside Heights, which was the setting for MTV's reality show, Jersey Shore.

Roughly 400 firefighters contained the fire about five hours later by digging a 50ft (15m) trench in the sand to stop its progress.

Officials said the blaze had been completely extinguished by Friday afternoon.

Seaside Heights mayor Bill Akers told the New Jersey Star-Ledger newspaper the fire could have been much worse if construction equipment used to dig the trench had not already been near the boardwalk.

But many residents were still in disbelief. "We asked a lot of our people after the hurricane, and now we're going to ask again," he told the newspaper.

Governor Christie said several firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.

A local government spokesman told the Associated Press news agency that three police officers leaving the scene of the fire were also injured when they fell from an emergency vehicle on Friday. All were in stable condition.

Authorities continued their investigation into the fire on Friday but reported no evidence it was suspicious.

A local official called it "another tremendous wrench" in the recovery of a tourist area already hard-hit by Sandy, which tore through the north-eastern US in October 2012, causing billions of dollars of damage and killing more than 130 people.

An aerial photograph of the fire damage at Seaside Park, New Jersey on 13 September 2013 Several popular tourist attractions on the Seaside Park, New Jersey boardwalk were destroyed in the blaze

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