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Universal Studios Backlot Fire Destroys Several Rides, Shooting Locations

A fire at Universal Studios on Sunday affected two popular backlot shooting locations -- New York Street and the BACK TO THE FUTURE courthouse square -- the KING KONG park attraction and countless copies of studio films and TV shows in a video vault, VARIETY reports.

The pre-dawn blaze is said to have burned three to four acres, but the full impact on shooting and theme park operations was unclear. A Universal rep said Sunday afternoon they had no information regarding future production in the affected areas.

Universal Studios president and chief operating Ron Meyer called the blaze a "bad situation" but the studio's main motion picture vault was unaffected. More than 40,000 films and TV shows were in the vault that burned, but he said the studio has "lots of duplicates" in other places.

The theme park did not open its doors Sunday, but CityWalk restaurants reopened in the afternoon and the MTV Movie Awards went on that evening in the Gibson Amphitheater. The park opened at 10 a.m. today as scheduled.

"Fortunately, nothing irreplaceable was lost," Meyer said. Meyer and Steven Spielberg walked the lot in the morning to assess the damage.

Meyer did confirm the fire damaged two of the eight locations used for the CBS drama THE GHOST WHISPERER and "completely destroyed" a set that recently housed CHANGELING, a Universal feature from Clint Eastwood that just premiered at Cannes.

GHOST WHISPERER is on hiatus until mid-June and the studio will find other locations when shooting resumes, a Universal spokesperson said.

A commercial had been shooting over the weekend on the lot's New York street, Meyer said, but a studio rep said there was no production under way when the fire ignited around 4:45 a.m. Sunday.

The affected area also burned in a 1990 arson fire, causing tens of millions in damages that Spielberg helped rebuild.

The cause of the Sunday fire was not immediately determined by the Los Angeles County Fire Dept., which quickly engulfed three to four of the lot's 391 acres. Nearby residents were awoken by loud explosions, but it was not clear whether they were the cause or effect of the fire.

Early firefighters to the scene were hindered by low water pressure, drawing water from backlot ponds and lakes to aid the work. Several of the hundreds of firefighters sustained minor injuries. "They are our real heroes," Meyer said at a Sunday morning press conference. "I can't thank them enough."

Meyer rejected questions from reporters about a rumored bomb threat called in shortly before the fire began. "None of us have heard this," he said.

Melting plastic and reels from the video vault spewed toxins into the air around Universal Studios. After consulting with the fire department and air quality officials, the studio decided to keep the park closed for the day, warning those in the area with respiratory problems to stay inside.

After the 1990 blaze, New York street was rebuilt with flame retardant facades, but a fire department spokesman on Sunday said the fire overwhelmed the safety measures. City officials said they would review fire safety precautions in the wake of the inferno.