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Gareth H

Fire destroys Kong attraction at USH*

Published: June 1, 2008 at 12:18 PM

A fire is burning on the backlot of Universal Studios Hollywood, destroying sets on the New York and New England streets. More than 300 firefighters have contained the fire from spreading into surrounding brush, but the first continued to burn within the studio complex Sunday morning. There are no reported injuries. Three Several firefighters have been treated for minor injuries.

A Universal spokesperson said that the theme park was to open Sunday, though the backlot Studio Tour would be affected. [Universal didn't open as originally announced, according to some messages I've received. - Robert]

Here's a photo gallery from the LA Times.

*Update: The fire destroyed the King Kong building within the Studio Tour, as well as the Back to the Future town square. The fire started in or near a soundstage near the New York brownstones. - Robert

Update 2: Old-timers will remember that the backlot has burned before. In the early 1990s, a security guard was imprisoned for arson after starting a fire that burned some the same locations that burned today. Locals, post your news in the comments. - Robert

Update 3: I talked with Debbie Park, a Universal spokesperson. She said that the Universal is planning to open the park at 10 am tomorrow (Monday), when all attractions - including the Studio Tour - will be open.

Park said that it is too early to tell all that has been damaged or completely destroyed by the fire. But, she said, from what they have been told from firefighters and others on the scene, Kong was destroyed.

Tomorrow, Universal officials will re-group, assess the damage and start the process of deciding what to do from here, and Universal will issue another statement once that process has begun, Park said. - Robert

Replies (16)

Joshua Counsil

Published: June 1, 2008 at 1:25 PM

This is terrible. Glad nobody was seriously hurt, but what a blow to Uni. How did the fire start?

On the plus side, maybe they'll replace the Kong section of the backlot tour with something new.

Mostly Anonymous

Published: June 1, 2008 at 1:50 PM

The smell all morning in our neighborhood has been awful. It's nothing like the smoke from the regular California wildfires - it really smells toxic. We're keeping our kids indoors just to be safe.

So although the park may be open - I wouldn't recommend heading in this direction!

Bradley Robertson

Published: June 1, 2008 at 4:17 PM

Wow. This horrible news. I hope the firefighters are alright. I am also sad to here about Kong and the BTTF square. I really enjoyed seeing these parts of the tour when I was there last year.
John Quinteros

Published: June 1, 2008 at 5:15 PM

Oh man! That was such a bad blow to USH. I guess history does repeat itself. At least none of the park guests were injured or harmed in anyway. Was the park closed because of this?
Robert Niles
Editor

Published: June 1, 2008 at 6:24 PM

Park said that the fire officials requested that USH keep the park closed today, as not to have guest and park operations interfere with firefighters' access to the fire and burn areas.

Also, speaking for myself here, I think that it made a great deal of sense to keep the park closed, to limit guest exposure to the smoke in the immediate area. This was not a brushfire, but a structure fire burning facilities with a considerable amount of plastic and other man-made chemicals. That brews a nasty smoke.

Brian Emery

Published: June 1, 2008 at 7:40 PM

I am amazed that they will even open tomorrow.
The pictures in the LA times look like there is a lot of carnage.
Plus the lingering smell will be awful.

I wish USH a nice recovery with some new attraction in its place.

Robert OGrosky

Published: June 1, 2008 at 8:40 PM

I wonder if they will rebuild King Kong again like last time, or might they put in something new??
Robert Niles
Editor

Published: June 1, 2008 at 8:45 PM

For those not familiar with Universal Studios Hollywood, the park has a unique layout. It's built on the side of a mountain, with the parking garages, CityWalk and the bulk of the theme park at the top. There is a long series of escalators that lead to a lower lot, and the back lot is located below that, mostly near or on the valley floor.

The Studio Tour leaves from a landing located just below the upper lot, and the trams drive down a service road into the backlot.

The layout puts the main section of the theme park a significant distance away from the backlot. So, from an operational perspective, the bulk of theme park won't be affected at all by the fires (once the was out, the smoke dissipated and the firefighters away from the scene).

Yes, the Studio Tour will need to be rerouted around the burn area, and it will be missing Kong. But the Studio Tour reroutes on a daily basis, based on whatever filming is happening on the backlot. So Universal's used to doing that, if not for this specific reason.

Manny Barron

Published: June 1, 2008 at 9:12 PM

Wow this is bad. Thankfully no park guest or fireman got seriously hurt. I grew up with this Kong attraction. My earliest memory of Universal studios is watching King Kong eye to eye and the whole helicopter crash and of course the banana breath. Hopefully Universal can recover quickly and find a way to rebuild Kong or maybe update him to look like the 2005 film version of himself. This has got to be the worst time to be a Back to the Future fan. We are still heartbroken because of the ride removal and now the courthouse seems to have suffered damage.
Anthony Murphy
Writer

Published: June 1, 2008 at 9:32 PM

Its good the hear that the damage could have been worst. I also heard that the vaults were in danger. I think Kong will be rebuilt.
Phillip Florendo

Published: June 2, 2008 at 1:58 AM

It looks like the outdoor set with the stairway doorsteps is gone... as can be seen in Bruce Almighty *cues clip*. ...It's also in a current car commercial right now. I wish my USH pass didn't expire in early May. I'd like to go on the Studio Tour and see if they discuss the fire at all, maybe even drive through it.

If they rebuild another attraction in place of Kong on the Studio Tour, or re-create Kong, I hope it turns out to be a sort of 'blessing in disguise' with something great.

It's good to know that no one was seriously injured and that nothing irreplaceable was lost.

Robert Niles
Editor

Published: June 2, 2008 at 9:50 AM

Monday morning statement from Universal:

"The fire was contained to one section of the backlot. Unfortunately New York Street and the King Kong attraction were lost, but the iconic courthouse on Courthouse Square and half of the buildings facing the square were saved. Also affected was a video vault containing thousands of video and digital copies of films and TV shows. Although many of these items were lost, we believe that most, if not all, are replaceable. It is important to note as well that none of the 30 soundstages on the lot were damaged."

All in all, a bad loss, but not one that appears to be crippling to the park or the community. Thank goodness for that.

That said, I found it perversely amusing how local TV reporters had to disclaim the aerial shots of the backlot. (Saying things such as, "Um, that burnt airplane and wreckage around it are not part of the fire damage. They're supposed to be there.") I want to imagine some rookie reporter breathlessly reporting back to his producer that the fire seems to have destroyed "the back half of all the buildings on an entire block! Nothing's left but the fronts!"

The kids want to ride the Simpsons Ride, so I'll likely be taking a look first-hand within the next few days. I'll post any interesting photos on the front page.

Dan Rosenberg

Published: June 2, 2008 at 11:45 AM

I can't believe King Kong was destroyed. thats really sad:(
Chris Walton

Published: June 2, 2008 at 12:29 PM

What a shame...Makes me wish I had scheduled a trip to USH sooner. Now I'll never see BTTF Square...
M. Ryan Traylor

Published: June 2, 2008 at 2:00 PM

For those wishing they had seen BTTF town square, you haven't been able to see it since CBS started airing "Ghost Whisperer". They changed the whole look of the town square, putting in some sort of gazebo structure in the center and removing the clock tower. SAVE THE CLOCK TOWER!
LJ Warner

Published: June 2, 2008 at 7:14 PM

I went to USH with my family last June and I was disappointed with how the tram tour operated, of course I'm from the old school when the tour and some shows were the only thing you did there and I was really little, but it made a big impression on me at that time.
Anyway I'm gald I went with them last year, because Earthquake and Kong are(were) my favorite things on the tour.
What I didn't get were the people expecting to get into the park yesterday!! Even if I had presold tickets for that day I wouldn't have gone! I would have called or sent a letter to ask about exchanging them for another day. It would be common sense to not go because fires can move and shift very quickly. And I wouldn't be comfortable knowing that the fire was still smoldering just on the other side of the backlot from the ride area.

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