SEASIDE PARK, N.J. — They were the kind of places that made for family memories of french fries and ice cream, but also created some raucous reality TV.
They included an arcade where New Jersey’s governor played Skee Ball with his wife and kids, and a shop where he ate pizza (at least before his recent weight-loss surgery). There were three frozen-custard shacks, games of chance and stores where tourists could buy naughty T-shirts.
And now they’re gone, reduced to smoldering ruins by a spectacular fire that engulfed more than four blocks of a Jersey Shore boardwalk that had been rebuilt just five months ago after being destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.
“We’re wiped out again. It’s just unimaginable,” said Daniel Shauger, manager of Funtown Arcade, which reopened June 1 — and struggled all summer — after Sandy’s floodwaters ruined game machines and other equipment.
The cause of Thursday’s blaze is under investigation, although prosecutors said they have found nothing suspicious.
Sending giant orange and red fireballs rolling 50 feet into the sky, the fire brought a painful sense of deja vu to the side-by-side communities of Seaside Park and Seaside Heights, which rely on the boardwalk and beach for their economic survival.
Three police officers leaving the fire scene were hurt Friday when they fell from an emergency vehicle; two have head injuries. Their injuries are not considered life-threatening.
Gov. Chris Christie (R), as he did just after the Oct. 29 storm, vowed that the two towns will rebuild.
“I will not permit all the work we’ve done over the last 10 months to be diminished or destroyed by what happened last night,” he said. He added, “We will make new memories, because that’s what we do.”
Christie said about 30 businesses were destroyed, although authorities in the two towns said Thursday night that more than 50 businesses had been wrecked, including 32 in Seaside Park and more than 20 in Seaside Heights.
Seaside Park officials began planning Friday morning to rebuild their part of the boardwalk, at the southern end, where the fire began near a frozen custard stand. Most of the boardwalk shared by the two towns was still intact.
Bob Martucci, the borough administrator, said it will cost $600,000 to rebuild the borough-owned boardwalk. Individual businesses are not included in that cost, he said.
The ruined businesses included pizza shops, wheel-of-chance games, and a seafood restaurant whose Facebook page on Friday read simply “R.I.P.”
There were french fry stands, a fudge shop and bar-and-grills, including one where Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi was punched in the face during filming of the first season of MTV’s “Jersey Shore.”
The Funtown amusement pier was so badly damaged by Sandy that it could not reopen this summer. It burned, too.
Christie said most affected businesses probably will rely primarily on insurance to rebuild.
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), whose congressional district includes shore communities just a few miles north of Seaside Heights, said he would ask federal officials to let the two towns use some of the federal Sandy disaster relief money to rebuild the boardwalk again.
“There’s obviously a pot of money out there,” Pallone said. “If we can use it for this, we should.”