SEA ISLE CITY — Three unoccupied beachfront condos were destroyed by a fire Friday afternoon, and smoke filled nearby homes on the eve of a holiday weekend. No injuries were reported.
Firefighters at the scene said the calls came in at about 4 p.m. and the fire was under control by 6 p.m. The cause is still under investigation.
"It's a sad, sad, day, but no one was injured," said Mayor Len Desiderio, who added that three homes on Pleasure Avenue in the 7800 block were totally engulfed and destroyed and several others damaged.
A crowd of more than 100 people gathered on the beach at one point to watch the blaze.
"It's like a tourist attraction in Sea Isle City," said Tricia Lee, 16, who had walked several blocks with her cousin to see the blaze.
Through thick smoke, a large pile of wood and rubble could be seen, next to a half-standing structure, which was the last home the firefighters were battling at the time.
Officials had cordoned off the area near the fire between 76th and 80th Streets, from Landis Avenue to the beach, but that didn’t stop many from crossing over the dunes to for a clearer view from the beach.
Many expressed sympathy for the homeowners, and others watched silently as a tower ladder sprayed large arcs of water over one of the two-story buildings.
“It’s sad to see people have to go through this,” said Catharine Condran, 15, of Cape May Court House. She was with her grandmother when she heard about the blaze and they drove over to the scene to watch.
Police officers were standing on the dunes to control the crowd, ensuring no onlookers were able to get close to the blaze or falling debris.
“It’s a barn burner. The wind is making is very difficult, extremely difficult,” Desiderio said in an interview before the fire was under control.
Resident and local business owner Michael Cardinale was one of those standing on the beach watching as the fire consumed the buildings.
He said when he first saw the ambulances and police cars flying by his restaurant, Mrs. Brizzle’s Buns, he knew something unusual was happening.
He prepared some sandwiches to bring for the firefighters and headed to the location of the billowing dark smoke.
Cardinale said that as he approached the area, he saw his home was only a block south of the area cordoned off by officials and stopped to check inside.
“There’s a lot of smoke in the house, I don’t know if I have any smoke damage or not. I just stopped by for a quick second and then came out to bring these guys (firefighters) some food,” Cardinale said.
As the fire was being put out, Cardinale said he had relatives arriving from Philadelphia to celebrate Easter weekend with him.
“We’ll see. If the house smells like smoke we’ll have to have Easter dinner at the shop,” he said.
Smoke from the fire was visible from the Garden State Parkway and from several towns away along the shore.
“I’ve never been this close to something this big,” said David Forte, 18, of Dennis Township.
He was with his family getting pizza on the mainland, but could see the clouds of smoke from where he was.
“I didn’t know if it was a storm or fire,” he said, but he soon figured out what it was when fire trucks flew by him with sirens blaring.
After finishing the pizza, he arrived at the scene of the blaze at about 6:30 p.m.
By that time many onlookers had left the area, including several ambulances. The yellow police tape was removed from the northern perimeter on Pleasure Avenue, but residents still kept away from the scene.
Battling the blaze required the assistance of several nearby firefighters including Avalon, Ocean View, Cape May Court House and Seaville. City officials and firefighters at the scene, at 78th street and the beach, said the homes were empty and that a demolition crew would have to knock down what remained of one of the houses.
Staff writer Richard Degener contributed to this report.
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