(NBC NEWS) -- The devastation wrought by a monstrous fire that raged across an iconic Jersey Shore boardwalk Thursday was like a punch in the gut to many locals and officials who just four months ago celebrated the reopening of two beach communities ravaged by Superstorm Sandy.
As some 400 firefighters battled the massive wind-whipped blaze, which forceful gusts of up to 40 mph had pushed from Seaside Park to neighboring Seaside Heights, business owner Tim Hussey said he was "bewildered" by the disastrous turn of events.
"We've been through a storm and now a fire," Hussey, the owner of Kupper's French Fries, told NBC News. "Is this some type of message?"
The inferno, which sparked at an ice cream shop around 2:30 p.m. and rapidly gobbled up around 50 businesses, turned the area into a hellish tinderbox.
"It's horrible. We're getting kicked while we're down," Seaside Park Police Chief Francis Larkin told NBC News. "It couldn't have come at a worse time for us."
it took firefighters six hours to bring the flames under control. About a hundred firefighters are continuing to battle hot spots Friday morning.