June 2, 2008 in Nation/World

Fire rips Universal film lot

Greg Risling Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Firefighters remove film canisters from a burning video vault Sunday at Universal Studios. Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. – Fire tore through a lot at Universal Studios on Sunday, destroying a set from “Back to the Future,” a King Kong exhibit and a streetscape seen frequently in movies and TV shows.

It was the second fire at the historic site in nearly two decades, leveling facades, hollowing out buildings and creating the kind of catastrophe filmmakers relish re-creating. This time around, thousands of videos chronicling Universal’s movie and TV shows were destroyed in the blaze.

Universal officials said that they were thankful no one was seriously injured and that the damaged footage can be replaced.

“We have duplicates of everything,” said Ron Meyer, NBC Universal president and chief operating officer. “Nothing is lost forever.”

The blaze broke out on a soundstage featuring New York brownstone facades about 4:30 a.m. at the 400-acre property, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Michael Freeman said. The fire was contained to the lot but burned for more than 12 hours before the flames were extinguished.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. Damage was expected to be in the millions of dollars. Concerns for air quality because of the acrid smoke prompted the South Coast Air Quality Management District to send a chemist to take air samples at the scene, said spokesman Sam Atwood. Results were expected this morning.

The iconic courthouse square from “Back to the Future” was destroyed, and the famous clock tower that enabled Michael J. Fox’s character to travel through time was damaged, fire officials said. Two mock New York and New England streets used for movie-making and as tourist displays were a total loss, Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Darryl Jacobs said.

An exhibit housing a mechanically animated King Kong that bellows at visitors on a tram also was destroyed.

All three sites were either damaged or destroyed during another fire at Universal Studios in November 1990. That fire caused $25 million in damage and was started by a security guard who was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to arson.

Hundreds of visitors who had waited for hours outside the park gates were turned away. On a typical weekend day, about 25,000 people visit Universal Studios. NBC Universal said in a statement that the park would reopen today.

“It looked like a disaster film,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge.

Several firefighters suffered minor injuries. One firefighter and a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy were slightly hurt when a pressurized cylinder exploded inside the building housing the videos.

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