Large fire devours movie sets at Universal Studios

The front entrance to the Universal Studios theme park is seen as smoke burns from a fire on a movie production backlot of Universal Studios in the Universal city section of Los Angeles on Sunday, June 1, 2008.

The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, June 1, 2008 at 2:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, June 1, 2008 at 2:59 p.m.

LOS ANGELES- A large fire tore through a back lot at Universal Studios early Sunday, destroying a set from "Back to the Future," the King Kong exhibit and a video vault containing more than 40,000 videos and reels.

The blaze broke out on a backlot sound stage in a set featuring New York brownstones facades around 4:30 a.m. Sunday at the 400-acre property, but was contained later in the day, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Michael Freeman said.

Roughly 40,000 to 50,000 videos and reels were damaged in the vault, but there were duplicates stored in a different location, NBC Universal President and Chief Operating Officer Ron Meyer said.

"Nothing is lost forever," Meyer said.

The videos included every film that Universal has produced and footage from television series' like "Miami Vice" and "I Love Lucy." Firefighters recovered hundreds of those titles from the vault, Freeman said.

The iconic courthouse square from "Back to the Future," was also destroyed, Freeman said, and the famous clock tower that enabled star Michael J. Fox's character to time travel was damaged.

The King Kong exhibit is a stop on the studio's tram tour where the giant ape bellows at passengers and artificial banana scent fills the area, studio spokesman Eliot Sekuler said.

Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Daryl Jacobs said as many as three blocks of movie facades were destroyed, including two mock New York and New England streets used for filmmaking and tourist displays.

A commercial shoot was going on when the fire broke out, Sekuler said. The cause of the fire was under investigation. Universal Studios is located nine miles north of downtown Los Angeles that has thrill rides and a back lot where movies and television shows are filmed. One of the more familiar back lot attractions is the house featured in "Psycho."

Scenes from several blockbuster films and television shows have been filmed at the studios, including "War of the Worlds," ''When Harry met Sally" and "Scrubs."

The fire however will not affect the 2008 MTV Movie Awards, which is to broadcast live Sunday night from the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, according to the music network.

Meyer said the park would open at noon Sunday, and on a typical weekend day about 25,000 people visit the theme park. However, tram tours would avoid the King Kong attraction, Sekuler said.

More than 100 firefighters try to prevent the flames from spreading to nearby brush. A thick column of smoke rose thousands of feet into the air and for a time helicopters swept in to drop water. Three firefighters had minor injuries.

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