A raging fire that gutted more than 30 Jersey Shore boardwalk businesses and took all night to put out looks “suspicious” — and is being investigated by prosecutors, sources said.
Investigators are eyeing arson because it was a midday fire with no bad weather and no obvious cause or injuries, sources told ABC News.
Officials have not yet been able to investigate the cause because the boardwalk was still smoldering on Friday afternoon but they are looking into all possibilities, sources said.
“Fire of this magnitude with no obvious cause goes to the lead investigative agency in the county, which in this case is the Ocean County Prosecutor’s office,” an official told ABC News.
The fire erupted at Kohr’s Custard Stand on Thursday, leaving six blocks of the iconic in boardwalk in Seaside Park blackened with rubble.
On Friday, business owners rushed to the still-smoldering site, where some shops were left without roofs and walls.
Business owners — some of whom had just recovered from Hurricane Sandy Damage — were shocked to see the war-zone-like scene.
“The whole front of [my] building got burned. We don’t know whether [we have to] tear the whole building down,” said John Sundermann, 57, who owns Big Hearted John’s shop.
Other business owners, who suffered less damages, said they felt lucky.
“Nobody had seen this coming. I don’t know how these other guys will rebuild… It’s their main source of income,” said Daniel Shauger, 41, who manages Funtown Arcade, which suffered only minor damages.
A small corner of the arcade shop had been burned, he said.
“It was spared. You wouldn’t think the building would be here in the morning,” Shauger said.
Heartbroken neighbors also starred in shock as firefighters sprayed the boardwalk with water.
“Just to have it gone. You just want to cry,” Shirley Kreszl, 62, told The New York Post with tears in her eyes.
“It just kind of knocks the wind out of you…It’s like a piece of you got damaged,” she said.
Many of the businesses wiped out by the fire had only just re-opened this past summer, after being closed for months in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, she said.
Gov. Chris Christie also spoke briefly near the boardwalk to encourage relief efforts.
“We will not let these fires destroy [Sandy recovery ] efforts,” he said.
The inferno began at about 2:30 pm on Thursday and damaged roughly 30 businesses, Christie said.
Strong winds up top 20 to 30 mph winds pushed the fire through six blocks of the boardwalk — racking up millions of dollars in damage, sources said.
The cause of the blaze is unknown and still being investigated, he said. The fire was worsened by the custard shop’s rubber roof and 30 mile-an-hour winds, he said.
Many of the businesses wiped out by the fire had only just re-opened this past summer, after being closed for months in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a witness said.
Dozens of firefighters worked until dawn to control the blaze, pouring sand and water on smoldering rubble after the fire was contained on Thursday night at around 11 pm, Christie said.
On Thursday night, firefighters dug a trench and ripped out a 25-foot chunk of the iconic boardwalk to prevent the blaze from spreading. Other workers shoveled makeshift dunes to stop the fire.
Roughly 100 firefighters remained at the scene overnight to ensure the fire would not reignite.
A total of roughly 400 firefighters, some of them volunteers, responded to the fire. None suffered serious injuries.
The boardwalk became a symbol of the storm’s destruction after it washed much of the area in to the ocean last year.