Fire destroys buildings at Universal Studios in L.A.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A huge fire burned for nearly 10 hours at the Universal Studios film and TV studio on Sunday, damaging a sound stage, movie sets, a popular “King Kong” attraction and shutting down its theme park and CityWalk shopping center for the day.

About 500 firefighters from several Los Angeles-area fire departments battled the blaze, and six were treated for injuries. A deputy sheriff was also treated after he and a firefighter were hurt in an explosion in a burning warehouse, L.A. County Fire Inspector Ron Haralson said.

Haralson said the fire had been contained to a single structure -- the “King Kong” exhibit -- and that firefighters had brought in bulldozers to move thousands of burning videotapes and other flaming debris. Firefighters earlier predicted the blaze would be “knocked down” within hours.

A total of five structures within the New York exhibit, including one sound stage, were lost in the fire.

Also damaged was the “King Kong” attraction, a famous alley from “The Sting” and a set from “Back to the Future”.

Sunday’s taping of the popular MTV Movie Awards at the adjacent Gibson Amphitheater, which was not affected, was set to go ahead as planned.

Company officials had earlier said the studio’s theme park and popular CityWalk shopping center would open at noon, but changed courses by around 2:45 p.m. (5:00 p.m. EDT), saying that neither the theme park or CityWalk would open.

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Cars had earlier been let in, and a Reuters journalist saw people lined up outside a restaurant on CityWalk.

Traffic snaked for miles in all directions to the studio, where a building housing a video vault had been badly damaged and the vault itself was “compromised.”

A Universal spokeswoman said about 40,000 to 50,000 videos had been damaged but the studios either had copies of those films or could easily copy them.

The contents of a second vault holding master copies of older and classic movies were salvaged.

“Nothing irreplaceable was lost,” said Ron Meyer, Universal Studios’ president and chief operating officer.

The studio said the full damage had not yet been assessed.

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Sunday’s fire burned some of the same back-lot areas destroyed by a blaze in 1990, which whipped through the New York Street and a set used for “Ben Hur.” It took years to rebuild, and repairing the damage cost an estimated $50 million.

L.A. County Fire Inspector Darryl Jacobs said the blaze was first reported around 4:45 a.m., but it was not immediately clear what started it.

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Firefighters encountered explosions from propane tanks and called in helicopters at one point to drop water.

Universal Studios is bounded by the City of Los Angeles and communities like Burbank. It is home to the Universal Pictures movie lot and Universal Studios Hollywood theme park.

Several acres on the 230-acre (93-hectare) back-lot area, where films and TV shows are produced, were burned, but the theme park was largely unaffected.

Universal Studios Hollywood houses attractions such as “Revenge of the Mummy - The Ride” and “Shrek 4-D.” Its “CityWalk” mall has 65 restaurants, nightclubs and shops.

Universal Pictures is one of six major film studios with a history that dates to 1909. It has been a major producer of horror movies and tapped a young Steven Spielberg to make 1975’s “Jaws.” The director still houses his production company, Amblin Entertainment, on the Universal lot.

Other hit Universal titles have included the “Back to the Future” and “Jurassic Park” movies.

Universal Studios is operated by NBC Universal Inc., a diverse media company that is 80-percent owned by General Electric Co. and 20 percent by French communications and utility company Vivendi.

Additional reporting by Bob Tourtellotte, editing by Eric Walsh