Investigators are set to return to the scene on Monday to try and determine the cause of a massive 7-alarm fire that ripped through beachfront homes in Sea Isle city.
The fast-moving fire, fanned by strong ocean winds, burned million dollar homes to the ground and damaged nearly a dozen others in Sea Isle City, N.J. on Good Friday.
As the rubble smoldered Saturday morning, crews returned to the 7800 block of Pleasure Avenue at the beach to put out some hot spots.
Flames began to flicker around 4 p.m. Friday and quickly spread to a total of three structures sharing the same lot, city officials said. In total five homes were consumed.
"It was just amazing how fast the first house went up in flames," said witness Daniel O'Connell, who is staying on the island with his family for the Easter holiday. "I followed the smell [of smoke] and speeding police cars to the house where there was just a small amount of smoke coming out of the basement of one of the houses."
Within minutes, however, O'Connell said the fire simply erupted.
"The police were attempting to put out the fire with fire extinguishers, but at that time it was too late," the 15-year-old Jenkintown, Pa.-native told NBC10.com. "The house started pouring black smoke out of the basement, so I rode around the block [on my bike] to get up wind of the fire and out of the smoke. From here, I could see the flames erupting and traveling up the house."
The structures were side-by-side townhouses, each about 2,000 square feet, according to Sea Isle City Mayor Leonard Desiderio. According to data on the real estate website Zillow.com, the beachfront homes were listed for more than $2 million.
"The wind was blowing hard from the beach, going towards the bay," said Loretta Giello, who has a summer home on 85th Street. "And I kept hearing sirens and sirens, and I saw so much black smoke that I started to run down there to see what was happening."
NBC10 First Alert Weather Meteorologist Sheena Parveen said onshore winds were gusting near 15 to 20 mph at the time of the fire, which is pretty typical.
Giello said multiple fire engines have responded from different shore towns but that Sea Isle City is not as easy to access because the bridge coming in from Avalon is closed.
"So the fire trucks had to go all the way down Route 9, or the Parkway, until they get into Sea Isle and that's another 15 or 20 minutes," Giello said. Mayor Desiderio said however, he did not think the bridge being out affected response time.
Cape May County fire dispatch radio, posted to YouTube, shows the first call went out at 4:27 p.m. and that the Sea Isle Fire Department requested mutual aid from nearby fire departments about five minutes into the response, before Sea Isle crews were on scene.
A total of 14 fire companies from up and down the Jersey Shore responded to the blaze, fire officials said.
Mayor Desiderio said there were no injuries, but that 11 nearby homes were also damaged due to the intense heat from the fire. He said the homes that burned are vacation homes, not year-round homes.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Sea Isle City is a small Cape May County city of around 2,000 year-round residents that swells in the summers when vacationers flock to its beaches. But like much of the Jersey Shore, it was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
That storm damage cost the city an amusement park just this year, when the owner of Gillian's Funland said the severely damaged park would have to close.