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Investigators: Heating tools caused fire

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image kabc"><span>KABC</span></div><span class="caption-text">The gigantic fire destroyed sound stages and parts of the popular backlot tour, June 1, 2008.  (KABC-TV)</span></div>
June 2, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Authorities say heating tools used by workers caused a fire that tore through a backlot at Universal Studios early Sunday, destroying a set from "Back to the Future," the King Kong exhibit and thousands of videos and reels in a vault. L.A. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and L.A. County Fire Dept. Chief P. Michael Freeman held a press conference at 5 p.m. Monday to discuss the details of Sunday's fire.

According to Freeman, the official investigation has reached its conclusion: Sunday morning, three Universal Studios employees were applying asphalt shingles with a blowtorch at Backdrop 7.

They finished the job at 3 a.m., and per company policy, remained at the site to keep watch for one hour. At 4 a.m., the workers took a break, according to Freeman.

At 4:43 a.m., a security guard noticed a fire at the site and immediately notified emergency fire personnel. Fire department personnel arrived on scene at 4:48 a.m., assessed the extent of the fire, and called for a second-alarm to the fire, which eventually resulted in more than 400 firefighters battling the blaze, according to Freeman.

Authorities are investigating the water-flow issue, according to Chief Freeman. The water pressure allowed more than 18,000 gallons per minute through firefighters' hoses, which was less than adequate, according to reports from the scene. The investigation will also look into the sprinkler systems throughout the studio lot.

Fire crews spent the night at the theme park to keep watch. Authorities are trying to figure out why the water pressure wasn't as strong as fire crews thought that it should have been. Fire officials say the lack of water pressure may have hampered their efforts to douse the fire early on. Firefighters resorted to drawing water from lakes and ponds in the theme park.

Universal Studios and CityWalk were reopened to the public Monday morning. Universal Studios is both a working studio and a theme park.

The blaze broke out on a sound stage at the theme park on a set featuring New York brownstone facades around 4:30 a.m. Sunday at the 400-acre property, Chief Freeman said.

After fighting flames for nearly 18 hours, firefighters were able to extinguish the fire around 11 p.m. Sunday. Several explosions slowed firefighters' efforts, and two personnel on the ground were injured in the blasts. Authorities said there may have been propane tanks inside one of the burning buildings.

In total, 10 personnel were moderately injured in the blaze. Four of the firefighters from the L.A. County Fire Dept., and five others from L.A. City Fire Dept., were injured, according to L.A. County Fire Inspector Ron Haralson. One L.A. County Sheriff's deputy was also injured.

The fire started on New York Street and rapidly burned building facades. It spread to Courthouse Square, which was featured in "Back to the Future."

The building that housed the King Kong exhibit was a total loss.

Roughly 40,000 to 50,000 videos and reels were in the video vault, but there are duplicates stored in a different location, said Ron Meyer, NBC Universal president and chief operating officer. Firefighters managed to recover hundreds of those titles from the vault.

The damage estimates are expected to be in the millions of dollars.

The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.

 

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