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Fire Breaks Out At Universal Studios

November 7, 1990

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. (AP) _ A fire raced through the Universal Studios lot Tuesday night, destroying movie sets used in ″Dick Tracy″ and other movies and damaging some attractions on the company’s studio tour.

Hundreds of firefighters backed by water-dropping helicopters contained the billowing flames by 10 p.m., about three hours after the blaze broke out in the 420-acre lot 10 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

There were no immediate reports of injuries, and the cause of the fire was’t known, said police Sgt. Richard Thomas.

Most of the damage was to wooden facades that tourists ogle on the Universal Studios tour, county fire inspector Jim Gandee said.

″They’re just like kindling, matchboxes ready to go up,″ Gandee said.

No evacuation was ordered at the nearby Universal Hilton, where the California Republican party had its election night headquarters. Gubernatorial candidate Pete Wilson planned an appearance during the evening and reportedly was watching the flames from his hotel room.

About 200 Universal employees were evacuated, Thomas said.

Among the outdoor sets destroyed were New York Street, used to film Manhattan street scenes, Brownstone Street and Courthouse Square, where Michael J. Fox rode his skateboard in ″Back to the Future Part II.″ The ″Dick Tracy″ set also was gutted, Gandee said.

The blaze damaged part of the King Kong attraction, a huge mechanical gorilla that appears to shake tramloads of tourists. Officials weren’t immediately able to describe the damage. It also charred five acres of brush.

Winds gusting up to 50 mph hampered firefighters’ efforts.

No filming or special effects work was being done when when the fire began, Gandee said.

″From our vantage point the fire is burning in the center of the studio where our major facades are located,″ said Joan Bullard, president of public relations at Universal, at the height of the blaze.

″Everything looked like charcoal briquets,″ said Rusty Gilligan, who lives near the back lot. ″It was just a wreck.″

In an earlier fire at the lot, in 1987, a stage used for the 1959 epic ″Spartacus″ erupted in flames, causing $2.5 million in damage.

The studio features a seven-hour tour attraction, which includes a narrated tram ride that takes viewers through film sets and a simulated earthquake.

″The tour will be affected, but we have no information on how at this time,″ Bullard said.

Universal Studios was founded by Carl Laemmle in 1912. It did not gain recognition until the 1920s, when it produced several now-classic silent films, including ″The Phantom of the Opera,″ and ″The Hunchback of Notre Dame.″

Universal Studios is one of the older Hollywood lots and home to such film classics as ″Psycho,″ by Alfred Hitchcock, ″The Sting,″ ″Jaws″ and ″To Kill A Mockingbird.″

Current television shows shot at Universal include ″Major Dad,″ ″Murder She Wrote,″ ″Quantum Leap″ and ″Matlock.″

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