By MADDY VITALE
OCEAN CITY – A fire that broke out early Saturday morning at Playland Castaway Cove’s arcade on the Ocean City Boardwalk caused extensive damage to the building and left thick black clouds of smoke in its wake.
But Playland’s signature outdoor amusements that tower over the Boardwalk such as the Gale Force roller-coaster and Double Shot thrill ride appeared untouched by the flames that shot in the air.
Plumes of smoke changed from black to white as firefighters appeared to get the blaze under control throughout the morning.
At times, the arcade building was smothered in black acrid smoke.
According to a city news release, there were no reported injuries in the blaze that broke out at 7:40 a.m. Firefighters responded to a smoke alarm at the Boardwalk’s 1000 block.
The fire ripped through the amusement park’s arcade and offices and also damaged the adjoining Hamburger Construction Company and Dairy Queen, the press release said.
By 11 a.m. the fire was under control. Multiple agencies were on the scene to battle the blaze. Emergency responder vehicles lined the streets and police closed off streets.
“The building suffered extensive damage. There does not appear to be structural damage to the Boardwalk, but this will be subject to further inspection,” the city said.
In the meantime, full access to the block of the Boardwalk between 10th and 11th streets will be restored only as conditions allow. People are encouraged to avoid the area until the fire response is over, according to the release.
The cause of the fire is unknown at this time and remains under investigation.
Playland is a landmark amusement park dating back to 1959, featuring 32 rides, according to its website oceancityfun.com. Its centerpiece attraction is the Gale Force roller-coaster, which soars 125 feet in the air over the Boardwalk.
A statement posted on Playland’s Facebook page made it clear that the amusement park will be open for business in the spring.
“To our family and loyal guests, we thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. We would like to thank all of the first responders for their hard work and pray for their continued safety throughout today’s events.”
The Facebook post continued, “We struggle to comprehend this morning’s events and what will be of the next few months, but we can assure you this, we will rebuild!! We have a secondary entrance that will now be our main entrance for the foreseeable future. We will be open sooner rather than later! For now, hug your loved ones, pray for the first responders and know that we will be back in the spring of 2021!”
Robert Green, an engineer from Somers Point, designed the iconic replica of a pirate ship that was at the entrance to Playland Castaway Cove.Onlookers watched as smoke poured out of the arcade building and blew toward the ocean, creating a fog-like appearance on the Boardwalk.
Teams of emergency personnel worked together as some city officials stood by and assessed the scene.
City officials noted in the press release that a west wind fueled the fire but likely spared neighboring buildings. Required structural firewalls between properties also worked effectively.
While there were no people in the arcade or the other adjoining businesses at the time of the fire and no reported injuries, emergency responders will be checked for injuries related to the extreme cold, officials said. Temperatures were in the 20s at the time of the fire.
There does not appear to be structural damage to the Boardwalk, but this will be subject to further inspection.
Video showed firefighters spraying water on the iconic pirate ship replica that serves as Playland’s main entrance overlooking the Boardwalk between 10th and 11th streets.
Robert Green, a Somers Point engineer who designed the pirate ship, watched as the firefighters continued to douse the rooftop of the arcade.
He looked out and could see the top of the mast of the ship he created.
“I designed the pirate ship. I did the foundations for all of the rides. I feel so bad. They are such good people at Playland. The building was so beautiful. It was all wood,” Green said.
Then he said hopefully, “Maybe the ship could be saved. You could see the mast. That’s a good thing.”
Ocean City resident Rich Washart and his friends watched the scene from a safe distance, along with other onlookers.
“I walked up early and saw the whole ship was on fire,” Washart noted.
Ron Reighn and his daughter-in-law Aubrey Reighn watched firefighters battle the blaze as they took video.
“We have been there a lot in the past,” Ron Reighn said of the amusement park.
Others, who called the amusement park a favorite place to go on the Boardwalk in the summer, took video and snapped photos with their cellphones.
All Ocean City fire, police and public works units were on recall as a three-block perimeter was established to fight the fire.
The Marmora Volunteer Fire Department, Longport Volunteer Fire Department, Margate Fire Department, Somers Point Fire Department, Tuckahoe Volunteer Fire Company, Seaville Volunteer Fire Company and Strathmere Volunteer Fire Company provided mutual aid, along with police units from Sea Isle City, Egg Harbor Township, Longport, Linwood and Northfield, rescue squads from AtlantiCare and Upper Township, and the Cape May County Regional Urban Search Team (RUST).