OCEAN CITY – A nine-alarm fire filled the skies with smoke last Sunday afternoon, drawing 22 fire companies from across two states to battle the flames that would quickly engulf and destroy two Boardwalk businesses.
Last Sunday will remain in the memories of many community members and firefighters for years to come, as fire companies and an entire community came together to fight the massive fire that would ultimately leave two Boardwalk businesses in ruins and significantly damage a third. Although the damage runs deep and will be felt for many years, business owners and town officials were thankful this week for the lives and property spared, the efforts taken and the chance to rebuild.
"It could have been far worse for other buildings on that block if the firefighters had not acted as quickly and decisively as they did," said Council President Joe Mitrecic this week, applauding firefighters on a job well done.
The Ocean City Police Department first responded to the scene at 12:04 p.m. in response to a reported assault in progress. When officers arrived, they were met with the initial smoke and flames that would ultimately destroy the Dough Roller and neighboring T-shirt shop, Sunshine Beachwear, and damage Marty’s Playland.
Ocean City Fire Services were the first to arrive to the active fire. Over the course of the next two hours, 22 fire companies would join Ocean City firefighters, bringing in 38 engines and 15 trucks to battle the blaze. Fire companies from Worcester, Sussex and Wicomico counties joined the efforts and were able to control the fire by 2:25 pm.
"The first call came in at approximately 12:04 and the chief put the fire under control at 2:25," said Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company Public Information Officer Steve Price.
Firefighters remained on the scene well past midnight to ensure that the scene remained safe.
"We had people there well past midnight," said Price, who explained that the collapse of the roof left several hot spots within the building. "We stayed on just to make sure there wasn’t any rekindling of the embers."
It was clear from the scene Sunday afternoon that Sunshine Beachwear as well as the Dough Roller, a fixture of the south end of the Boardwalk, known for its famous Dayton’s fried chicken, would not survive the fire.
"That building is completely destroyed, a complete loss," said Price.
Marty’s Playland was more fortunate, however, sustaining fire damage along the first floor, mainly along the adjacent wall, and more extensive damage in the second floor apartments.
Although both buildings maintained damage, Price remained thankful that only one minor injury resulted from the blaze. One firefighter sustained eye injuries. He was taken to Atlantic General Hospital and released later that day.
"I saw him back on the scene that night," Price said. "That was the only injury reported to us which is great."
As the embers cooled this week, Dough Roller owner Bill Gibbs was quick to count his losses and move toward rebuilding. The Dough Roller was razed this week, the first of many steps in the rebuilding process.
"They don’t believe the origin of the fire was from the Dough Roller," Gibbs said this week. "If the wind had gone the other way, the whole block probably would have been gone. It could have been both of us, Marty’s could have been gone too. I played in that arcade as a kid."
As a result, crews were able to move in as early as Monday to demolish the building that has been standing proudly along the Boardwalk for many years.
"It was real old, I know it was originally built in the early 1900’s. We had been there 24 years," said Gibbs.
Watching the walls of his business literally go down in flames was undoubtedly painful for Gibbs, but it was the antique memorabilia, wood paneling and classic ceilings that struck his heart the most.
"The old ceilings, the lunchboxes, those things can never be replaced," said Gibbs.
The walls of the Dough Roller were lined with classic lunchboxes collected over the years, Gibbs said.
Despite the devastating loss, Gibbs is looking to the future, already working to rebuild and plan for next summer.
"We just stayed up all last night," Gibbs said Tuesday.
His team has already been working tirelessly with Becker Morgan to draw up designs for the new restaurant. Although this season is lost for the downtown Dough Roller, Gibbs is aiming to be open for business by next April.
"We certainly could not afford to lose next season, too," he said.
Like Price, Gibbs is thankful that everyone was led to safety. Although the fire took no lives, many will ultimately be affected by the temporary loss of business.
"There are four families that live off of that business besides myself. We’re fortunate that we have other businesses," said Gibbs, referring to the many long-time employees who depend on their jobs at the Dough Roller.
However, employees will be redistributed to other Dough Roller locations in the interim.
"We’re going to struggle with it, but we’re hopeful for next season," Gibbs said.
Ultimately, Gibbs is thankful to the men and women who worked to save his business and the other businesses along the Boardwalk that could have perished as well.
"It’s impossible to imagine how hard those men worked on that fire," said Gibbs, stressing how thankful he is for their efforts. "How happy we should all be, as a community, to have a volunteer fire company like ours."
Mitrecic reinforced those sentiments, thanking every firefighter for their efforts. "When I arrived at the scene I didn’t see volunteers and career firefighters, I saw firefighters. I’d like to extend a thank you to everyone that was there."
As of Thursday, no information as to the cause of the fire had been released.