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Water pressure blamed for Universal Studios damage

June 2, 2008, 8:18 AM EST

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Firefighters patrolled fire-damaged Universal Studios early Monday for flare-ups while authorities considered whether the blaze that gutted some of Hollywood's most famous backdrops was made worse by low water pressure.

 

At one point, Sunday's fire was two city blocks wide, and low water pressure forced firefighters to get reserves from lakes and ponds on the 400-acre property. The blaze was contained to the back lot, but burned for more than 12 hours before the final flames were extinguished.

 

"The water pressure situation was a challenge," Los Angeles County Fire Chief Michael Freeman said. "This fire moved extremely fast."

 

County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said authorities would investigate the water problems to see whether they reflect a larger shortfall in the area.

 

"There's no question that there was a lack of adequate water pressure at least in the perception of a lot of firefighters," he said. "We're going to find out what the problem was."

 

Universal Studios is a theme park and its back lot is a working studio, complete with streetscapes and soundstages. The fire, which broke out around 4:30 a.m. Sunday, destroyed the courthouse square from "Back to the Future."

 

The cause of the fire is under investigation. Damage estimates were not available, but costs are expected to move into the millions. The park was to reopen Monday.

 

A thick column of smoke rose thousands of feet into the air and could be seen for miles. "It looked like a disaster film," said Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge.

 

Concerns for air quality due to the acrid smoke and a request from fire officials 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 Monday morning.

 

It was the second fire at the historic site in 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.

 

But Universal officials said that they were thankful no visitors were seriously injured — though several firefighters suffered minor injuries — and that the damaged footage can be replaced.

 

"We have duplicates of everything," said NBC Universal President and Chief Operating Officer Ron Meyer. "Nothing is lost forever."

 

Two mock New York and New England streets used both for movies such as "Bruce Almighty," "Spider-Man 2" and "Transformers" and as tourist displays were a total loss, Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Darryl Jacobs said.

 

The city streetscape has recently served as a backdrop in television shows like "Monk," "Crossing Jordan" and "House," said NBC Universal spokeswoman Cindy Gardner. A set used for the Clint Eastwood-directed movie "Changeling" featuring Angelina Jolie also was destroyed, Meyer said.

 

Along with the courthouse square, the famous clock tower that enabled Michael J. Fox's character in "Back to the Future" to travel through time was damaged, fire officials said.

 

Ten people — nine firefighters and a sheriff's deputy — suffered minor injuries in the blaze. The deputy and a firefighter were injured in an explosion in the building where the videos were housed at around 2:30 p.m., authorities said.

 

Meyer estimated there were 40,000 to 50,000 videos and reels in a video vault that burned but said duplicates were stored in a different location. Firefighters managed to recover hundreds of titles.

 

The videos included every film that Universal has produced and footage from television series including "Miami Vice" and "I Love Lucy."

 

Hundreds of visitors who waited for hours outside the park gates were turned away Sunday after officials decided not to open the area. On a typical weekend day, about 25,000 people visit Universal Studios.

 

An adjacent shopping promenade also was closed. The MTV Movie Awards, broadcasting live Sunday night from the nearby Gibson Amphitheater, went on as planned.

 

The blaze was believed to be one of the longest-running commercial fires in Los Angeles County history. "It is one of the longest fires to extinguish because of its complexity and size," said county Fire Capt. Mike Brown.

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Yeah, very sad and a lot of famous moview props were destroyed used in movies like Back to the Future and Indiana Jones. A famous building backround prop was destroyed used in movies such as SpiderMan, KingKong, and some Colonial movie but I forgot he name. Propane takns were exploding in a lot of places which made the fire worse.

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All the sets will be rebuilt pretty quickly, I'd imagine. The movie industry out here is a multi-billion dollar giant, and many studios rely on those sets to shoot stuff. The only questionable thing is King Kong, but it was getting long in the tooth anyway and can probably be replaced with something better.

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This reminds me of an old Firesign Threatre bit:

 

"Nominees for "Best Performance in a Starring Vehicle are . . .

 

"Charlton Heston as 'Doghouse Riley' in Universal Pictures' 'The Day Universal Burned Down.'"

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I received an email this morning from the PR manager at Universal with the following statement:

 

There was a major fire early Sunday morning at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. Fortunately, no NBC Universal employees were hurt, although some firefighters sustained minor injuries.

 

While the Universal Studios Hollywood and CityWalk were closed to the

public on Sunday to allow firefighters appropriate access, the MTV Movie

Awards were held as planned in the Gibson Amphitheater at CityWalk

Sunday evening. The theme park and CityWalk will be open for normal

operations Monday morning beginning at 10am.

 

The fire was contained to one section of the backlot. Unfortunately New

York Street and the King Kong attraction were lost, but the iconic

courthouse on Courthouse Square and half of the buildings facing the

square were saved. Also affected was a video vault containing thousands

of video and digital copies of films and TV shows. Although many of

these items were lost, we believe that most, if not all, are

replaceable. It is important to note as well that none of the 30

soundstages on the lot were damaged.

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Sorry, couldn't resist.....That does suck though, I really wonder what they'll do about King Kong? They used to brag about how that showed off what could be done with large scale animatronics, so it will be interesting to see if they rebuild him or replace with something else.

002.jpg.11d756be1096457bbaa0554aae029a21.jpg

RIP

ppkingkong.jpg.986630693ec0b32477a2878793e26325.jpg

RIP

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I would imagine that the tour will be closed for some time, which sucks, because I know tons of people visit that park JUST for that tour.

The backlot tour is supposed to re-open today. Remember, they have an alternate route when someone is shooting in the New York area and they would just treat this the same way.

 

As long as the Fire Department clears the area for public to be in (which I hear they probably should today) the tram tour would re-open.

 

--Robb

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...King Kong themed B&M Hyper would help ease the pain. Just throwing ideas out there.

 

I'm not sure if you are joking or not, but I am guessing a B&M Hyper next to the backlot in an area nowhere near the theme park might not be the best idea.

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I was 6 when King Kong became part of the Studio Tour. I remember the tour being much longer back then, almost a full day thing. At least several hours. You would get out of the tram at times. An older neighbor kid told me King Kong personally attacked him, and he had to be hospitalized. I wasn't a gullable kid, though.

 

Anyway, so long, old friend.

kk.jpg.718f5f65ad02cbf720fca4333ed7fce0.jpg

RIP King Kong, 1986-2008

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