By Liam McKenna
There is not a plethora of breaking news on Long Beach Island or the mainland that The SandPaper covers. With the paper, there has been two situations where I dropped whatever I was doing to report on an incident.
This story was the first breaking news piece I did with The SandPaper.
Overall, the first time I ever covered breaking news, I was in my first semester of college. This was at Bucks County Community College. Driving to class, a dump truck in front of me overcompensated for a curve in the road and went into a ditch. This shut down the west side of the main road to the college. After other witnesses and myself checked to make sure the driver was in decent shape, I grabbed my camera.
The next situation was a more traditional scenario for journalists. I was interning in London. One day, we read there was a motorcycle crash in our coverage area while using Twitter. I was sent out to report. The one witness I found spoke French. Luckily, though, he had a buddy who could translate.
These situations are often heart-breaking, high energy and evolving. I think it is one of the most challenging aspects of journalism.
7.7.2015- Flames leaped from the law offices of attorney Richard Shackleton in Ship Bottom on Monday, July 7, creating a fog of smoke that could been seen and smelled for miles.
“****ing disaster,” Shackleton said.
The blaze started around 3:15 p.m., according to Ship Bottom Police Chief Paul Sharkey.
Katie Shackleton, Richard’s daughter, was in her office at 2119 Long Beach Blvd. as a coworker came sprinting into the building, yelling for her father, who was also in the building.
“One of my partners was leaving to go home, came running back in, ‘there’s a fire next to the building,’” Richard said.
He said he did not have enough time to grab any personal belongings, adding he went right outside to see if he could help put out the fire.
“I didn’t smell it. I didn’t see it,” Katie said. “I didn’t think there would be anything big.”
Quickly, she grabbed a fire extinguisher and attempted to subdue the flames. She added a police officer was trying to help the effort.
Sharkey said officer Ed Williams was among the first at the scene, shortly after 3:15 p.m. The Ship Bottom Fire Co., whose station is around the corner at 21st Street, was dispatched at approximately 3:20 p.m., after police reported a fully involved structure fire. The company had just returned from a call at the Long Beach Township municipal building to investigate an odor in the computer room.
“Everyone just got home, and then everyone went right back,” Ship Bottom Fire Chief Wade Bradley said. “It was rather crazy that being one block away, there was nothing when all of us left the firehouse. The next thing I know, I’m leaving my house on 17th Street and there’s smoke rolling down Barnegat Avenue.”
“At some point, the fire just engulfed the rest of the building,” Sharkey said. “It went up pretty quickly, from my understanding.”
Early on, Katie thought she and the officer had the flames under control. Before they knew it, though, the flames were running up the east side of the building.
“The gas percolated through the whole building because they didn’t turn it off fast enough,” Katie said.
“Apparently, the fire started in the corner, close to the gas main,” Bradley said. “It worked down the wall, and then somehow compromised and opened up the gas service. You got fire and gas just getting out there. You basically got a barbecue.”
A steady southeasterly wind pushed the smoke and flames north. With these conditions, Sharkey commended the efforts of all fire companies involved.
“I think they did a tremendous job, just containing it to that one building with this wind blowing,” Sharkey said. “I was concerned it was going to jump to other buildings.”
Sharkey said the building was occupied by five or six employees and evacuated. He added that three or four people in adjacent buildings, including apartments, were evacuated.
“We did have a little bit of damage on the side of the pancake house (L.B.I. Pancake House), but it was minimal as far as my own opinion,” Bradley said. “I’m sure there’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of dollars of damage, but the structure is there. Carpenters are not cheap.”
Long Beach Boulevard was shut down from 20th Street to 23rd Street, as fire crews lined the Boulevard. Well over 100 people also lined the streets to watch the blaze, mostly beachgoers who saw the tower of smoke from their chairs in the sand. The closure caused a line of bumper-to-bumper traffic from Seventh Street in Ship Bottom to 61st Street in Brant Beach, according to Google Maps. The Boulevard was open to one lane of northbound traffic by 5:40 p.m.
As firefighters fought the blaze from inside and out, everyone on the inside of the building was apparently ordered to exit around 3:45 p.m. Crews did not appear to re-enter the building until after 5 p.m.
“It was a major event,” Sharkey said.
Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Capt. Jack Sramaty said Tuesday the fire was accidental.
“The fire originated outside the building,” Sramaty said. “It looks like it was one of those cigarette receptacles, I guess it would be called, caught on fire outside the building. And, that’s where it started.”
Bradley assumes the building will be knocked down due to the serious structural damage to it. He said the damage spreads from the roof to the second floor.
In terms of injuries, Ocean County Deputy Fire Marshal Bill Gee said Monday all parties involved appeared to be in good shape. He said any injuries as of Monday at 6 p.m. were most likely nothing more than minor.
First responders at the scene in addition to Ship Bottom police and firefighters were: Long Beach Township Police Department, New Jersey Natural Gas, Stafford Township Fire Co., Beach Haven Fire Co., Barnegat Light Fire Co., Ocean County fire marshal, Beach Haven First Aid Squad, Stafford EMS, Barnegat Light First Aid Squad, Forked River Fire Co., Surf City Fire Co., High Point Fire Co., Harvey Cedars Police Department, Ship Bottom Beach Patrol, Surf City Beach Patrol and Special Operations EMS. This group included two ladder trucks and one bucket truck.
News helicopters flew overhead around 4:15 p.m. Several onlookers said it was the worst fire they had ever seen on the Island. As of 9:15 p.m., safety officials were still on the scene, including the Tuckerton Fire Co., and the Boulevard was still partially blocked.
Fifteen members of the Ship Bottom Fire Co. were at the scene. They remained there until about 11 p.m. Monday night. Bradley thanked everyone from every town who was involved for the support.
“We’re never undermanned,” he said.
With so much attention on the fire, Katie’s primary concern is for her father.
“I’m worried about my pop,” Katie said. “He’s 81. He’s been practicing out of that building since 1968, and 1961 on the Causeway. It’s gotta be really, really hard on him.”
“He just recovered from the storm. He just got back into his office only a couple of months ago,” Bradley said. “He’s been here since 1968. I don’t think he’s going anywhere.”