June 5, 2008 / 4:10 AM / 10 years ago

Universal Studios fire sparked by blow torch

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A fire that burned through a large swath of the Universal Studios Hollywood back lot during the weekend was accidentally sparked by workers using heating tools on a film set, fire officials said on Monday.

A general view of fire-destroyed buildings at Universal Studios in Los Angeles June 2, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

The blaze erupted before dawn on Sunday in a portion of the lot containing exteriors used to resemble a New York City streetscape. It reduced a two-city-block area of the lot to ashes and burned through much of the adjacent Courthouse Square set that has appeared in such films as “Back to the Future” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Also destroyed was the popular “King Kong” attraction featured in the Universal Studios Theme Park tram tour of the back lot, and a warehouse where thousands of copies of archived TV shows and films were stored. Studio officials said all of the material lost in the video vault could be replaced.

More than 400 firefighters battled the flames late into the night. Nine firefighters and a deputy sheriff suffered minor injuries, Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman said at a news conference.

He said an investigation revealed the fire was touched off by three members of a studio work crew who had been using a blow torch to apply asphalt shingles to the roof of a building facade.

They finished their work at about 3 a.m. and stood watch for an hour, according to company policy. Seeing no signs of a fire, they left the scene for a break, but a security guard in the vicinity noticed flames about 45 minutes later and called the fire department.

Firefighters work amongst the debris after a fire raged out of control at the backlot filled with movie sets at Universal Studios in Universal City, Los Angeles June 1, 2008. REUTERS/Andrew Gombert/Pool

The fire, which burned for about 18 hours, forced authorities to close the theme park for the day, but the facility was reopened to tourists on Monday morning.

Much of the same area scorched by Sunday’s blaze had been destroyed by a 1990 arson fire and was subsequently rebuilt.

Firefighters were hampered on Sunday by low water pressure at times, but Freeman said the difficulty seemed to result from the overwhelming water demands posed by the blaze. At the height of the fire, more than 18,000 gallons of water per minute were being poured into the flames, he said.

Only one current TV show, the CBS series “The Ghost Whisperer,” was staged on the portion of the lot damaged by the fire. That series is on summer hiatus and not scheduled to resume production until June 11, a studio spokeswoman said.

She said no movie productions were affected by the blaze.

Universal is operated by NBC Universal Inc, which is 80 percent owned by General Electric Co.


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