Universal Studios reopens Monday after damaging weekend fire

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. Tourists applauded firefighters Monday as Universal Studios reopened and investigators examined the ruins of some of the most famous sets in Hollywood to find the cause of a spectacular weekend blaze.

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. Tourists applauded firefighters Monday as Universal Studios reopened and investigators examined the ruins of some of the most famous sets in Hollywood to find the cause of a spectacular weekend blaze.

When the gates opened, hundreds of people streamed into the venerable movie studio-theme park, which was closed Sunday after the early morning fire.

Tourists on the tram ride through the sets gave a round of applause to firefighters still putting out hot spots. At least a dozen fire trucks remained on the lot and smoke was still rising from thick, twisted piles of girders.

The fire tore through the back lot as firefighters struggled to overcome low water pressure and an overwhelmed sprinkler system.

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 if they reflect a larger shortfall in the area.

Theres no question that there was a lack of adequate water pressure at least in the perception of a lot of firefighters, he said. Were going to find out what the problem was.

In addition, the sprinkler system on the outdoor sets was nearly useless, Freeman told the Los Angeles Times.

The cause of the blaze had not yet been determined.

While 25,000 tourists visit on a typical weekend day, Universal Studios back lot is also a working studio, with streetscapes and soundstages. The fire, which broke out around 4:30 a.m. Sunday, destroyed the courthouse square seen in Back to the Future.

Damage estimates were not available but were expected to rise into the millions.

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

Concerns about air quality because of 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, said spokesman Sam Atwood. Results were expected Monday.

The fire, the second at the historic site in two decades, levelled facades, creating the kind of catastrophe filmmakers relish re-creating.

NBC Universal President and Chief Operating Officer Ron Meyer estimated there were 40,000 to 50,000 videos and reels of film in a vault that burned but said duplicates were stored in a different location. Firefighters managed to recover hundreds of titles.

Universal officials said they were thankful no visitors were seriously injured and that the damaged footage can be replaced. The videos included every film that Universal has produced and footage from television series including Miami Vice and I Love Lucy.

We have duplicates of everything, said Meyer. Nothing is lost forever.



Organizations: Universal Studios, Los Angeles Times, South Coast Air Quality Management District

Geographic location: Hollywood, Los Angeles County, Los Angeles

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