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Published: Tuesday, 6/3/2008

Workers' blowtorch is blamed for blaze at Universal Studios

ASSOCIATED PRESS

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. - Tourists got a view of real-life disaster in the make-believe world of Hollywood on Monday as the Universal Studios theme park reopened after a huge fire swept through back lot sets and buildings.

Fire officials determined the blaze was caused by accident.

The smell of smoke hung in the air as guests streamed in when the gates reopened and tourists on the park's tram ride applauded firefighters as they drove past. At least a dozen fire trucks remained on the lot as smoke continued to rise from thick, twisted piles of girders.

"We were a bit shocked," said Danish tourist Morten Jull, 20. "We were like, can this be?"

The pass by the fire scene was brief. The tram also drove by undamaged sights, including sound stages, the "Jurassic Park" area where dinosaurs spray water at visitors, the Bates Motel from "Psycho" and Wisteria Lane, scene of TV's "Desperate Housewives."

Later, on a viewing platform overlooking the back lot, several people surveyed the destruction.

"It's sad for Hollywood,' said Ismael Garza, 53, a stage manager.

A preliminary investigation determined the fire was an accident, said Los Angeles County fire Capt. Mike Brown. He would not provide further details.

The fire erupted about 4:30 a.m. Sunday on a streetscape featuring New York brownstone facades at the 400-acre property. It then destroyed a King Kong attraction, the courthouse square from "Back to the Future," and a streetscape featured in "Spider-Man 2" and "Transformers."

The blaze also gutted a building housing thousands of videos, but Universal Studios President and Chief Operating Officer Ron Meyer said there were duplicates of everything.

Low water pressure forced firefighters to tap lakes and ponds at Universal, which is a working studio as well as a theme park.

The blaze burned for more than 12 hours but was contained to the back lot, which straddles a pass through the hills between Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley.

Universal Studios said it could take several days to assess damage, but it was "business as usual" at its theme park and TV and movie production resumed Monday.

"The studio is open, production has resumed and our theme park and CityWalk reopened for business today," said spokesman Cindy Gardner in a statement.

None of the 30 sound stages on the lot were damaged, and the New York streetscape will be rebuilt, she said.

Nine firefighters and a sheriff's deputy suffered minor injuries. The deputy and a firefighter were injured in an explosion in the building where the videos were housed, authorities said.Another fire at Universal Studios in November 1990 caused $25 million in damage and was started by a security guard who was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to arson.

After that fire the New York streetscape was rebuilt in three months.



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