Fire destroys buildings at Universal Studios in LA

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A fire roared through part of Universal Studios film and TV studio on Sunday, damaging well-known movie sets and a popular “King Kong” attraction before being brought largely under control after 12 hours, fire officials said.

Universal, one of the world’s six major film studios, had to close its popular theme park for the day because of the fire but it did not interfere with Sunday’s taping of the popular MTV Movie Awards at the adjacent Gibson Amphitheater.

About 500 firefighters from several Los Angeles-area fire departments battled the blaze, which caused no fatalities but injured nine firefighters and a deputy sheriff, said Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Ron Haralson.

By late afternoon he said the backlot fire was contained to a single structure -- the “King Kong” exhibit -- as firefighters used bulldozers to move burning videotapes and other flaming debris.

The blaze destroyed about five structures within a faux New York set used in various movies and television shows, including one sound stage. Also damaged was the “King Kong” attraction, an alley from “The Sting” and a set from “Back to the Future.”

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 at an estimated cost of $50 million.

Universal is operated by NBC Universal Inc., which is 80 percent owned by General Electric Co and 20 percent by French communications and utility company Vivendi.

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Universal said it would resume its normal business hours Monday at 10 a.m., when all rides and attractions, including the studio tour, would be operating.

The fire caused traffic jams 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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Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Darryl Jacobs said the blaze was first reported about 4:45 a.m. The cause was not immediately clear.

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.

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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, with a history dating to 1909, has been a major producer of hit films, and tapped a young Steven Spielberg to make 1975’s “Jaws.” The director still houses his production company, Amblin Entertainment, on the lot.

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