AERIAL VIDEO: Seaside boardwalk fire zone now just mostly sand

     Chris Mercer's helicopter about the enter the Seaside boardwalk fire zone on the first anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. (Image: Mercer Photography)

    Chris Mercer's helicopter about the enter the Seaside boardwalk fire zone on the first anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. (Image: Mercer Photography)

    Less than a month after cleanup efforts began, the four block stretch of boardwalk between Seaside Park and Seaside Heights destroyed by the wind-whipped inferno in September has been mostly returned to its natural state: sand. 

    Workers are well ahead schedule. Crews began demolition and cleanup on October 7, with the contract requiring completion within 60 days.

    Photographer Chris Mercer of Mercer Photography launched a remote control helicopter affixed with a camera on Tuesday, the first anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, just south of the fire zone in Seaside Park. 

    His helicopter slowly ascends over the restricted beach, denoted by a “BEACH CLOSED” sign, rising before reaching a low cruising altitude near the Sawmill Cafe, a bar and restaurant that had survived the inferno and will eventually reopen after a renovation and expansion

    The video shows numerous piece of heavy machinery in action, continuing to clear debris.

    But most of the rubble is gone, with the machinery, dumpsters, and a few large pieces of steel the largest objects sitting in the fire zone. Some Superstorm Sandy ravaged Funtown Pier pilings remain, as do the Tower of Fear and the Skycoaster, which daredevil Christopher Angulo climbed and placed an American flag atop hours after Mercer shot his video. 

    The helicopter flies throughout the area, capturing the reopened Beachcomber Bar and Grill and Stevie D’s Arcade, which along with the Sawmil Cafe are the only structures that survived and will remain. The Beachcomber Bar and Grill reopened just a few weeks after the blaze, saved by its recently installed sprinker system

    Mercer utilized a “First Person View” system to document the scene.

    “The system transmits the video link to a ground station LCD display, where I see what the camera sees live, allowing me to tilt the camera. This permits full control of framing a shot, and most importantly allows me to pilot the craft as if I was actually there,” he said. 

    Seaside Park and Seaside Heights officials hired South Toms River-based Eagle Paving Corp to complete the demoliton and cleanup project. The company will receive roughly $4.7 million for the work.

    The state’s Economic Development Authority has set aside $15 million from programs offered to help in the recovery from Superstorm Sandy to assist the fire-impacted business owners. The money will not affect the funding earmarked for residents recovering from the superstorm.

    The fire has been blamed on the failure of electrical wiring impacted by Superstorm Sandy floodwaters.

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