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Ocean City Oddities: Boardwalk Fire of 2008

March 30, 2018 marks the 10-year anniversary of a nine-alarm fire that spread down Ocean City’s famous Boardwalk destroying the Dough Roller restaurant and severely damaging Marty’s Playland arcade and apartments. The winds were a key factor in the spread of the fire. Recalling the great Boardwalk fire of 1925, help from neighboring towns was quickly summoned at the beginning of the tragedy.

More than 225 firefighters from 19 towns were called to fight the blaze: Berlin, Showell, Bishopville, Ocean Pines, Selbyville, Roxana, Parsonsburg, Pittsville, Willards, Powellville, Bethany Beach, Lewes, Millsboro, Millville, Rehoboth Beach, Dagsboro, Frankford, Georgetown, and of course Ocean City, all responded. Five of the eventual eight aerial pieces that arrived from Maryland and Delaware created a formidable sight during the tragedy.

Although there were ample firefighters, hoses, and ladders to fight the fire, at first there was not enough water to get the job done. As a result, water was pumped from hydrants as far as four blocks away. The Town had to eventually divert water from its northern pumping stations.

Thousands of gallons of water stained the beach parking lot, seeking a path to the sea. At its height, firefighters doused the blaze with 15,000 gallons of water every minute.

The photo below depicts the Dough Roller devastation and the beginning of demolition the next day. Note the straight line between properties due to the sprinklers that Granville Trimper insisted on installing in the arcade in 1992. The Dough Roller building, built in 1925,  had no sprinklers or fire-alarm system.

As a result of the fire, two Skeeball games were burned and all of them had water damage. Ten other classic arcade games, including Crane Diggers and Bowlingos, were lost in the blaze.

Smoke, and over an inch of water from the second floor fire, damaged all of the hardwood floors, offices, and prizes in the arcade.

Four Playland apartments were severely damaged but “saved” by the firemen and the sprinkler system. Three apartments were completely lost.

The extensive cleanup, restoration, and construction process continues. Machines ran for 10 days in order to remove the dampness.

Nearly 35 years after their original purchase, the “classic” Skeeballs arrive back at Playland fully dried. Only two were lost to the fire. Machines were put back in place with location measurements to the inch while the arcade was open. New video and redemption games were carefully installed over the next several months, some of which came from China.

On April 10, 2008, approximately 75% of the arcade re-opened for business. On July 15, 2008, the arcade, including Diggerland and the classic Skeeball machines, were open 100%. The new Dough Roller restaurant, built on the same site, opened prior to the 2009 season. On August 1, 2008, the fire cause was declared arson and the suspect was arrested.

Special thanks to the Trimper family and Marty’s Playland Crew for the detailed account and photography of this historic event. 

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