Sunday, June 1, 2008

Today's fire at Universal Studios backlot

Early this morning, a fire broke out in the New York section of the Universal Studios backlot. It has since been contained by the hundreds of firefighters who were at the scene, but areas of the studio lot have been destroyed. Thankfully, only three firefighters suffered minor injuries, and no one else has been hurt. Though authorities do not know what specifically caused the fire, it erupted during the filming of a commercial. More details about the blaze can be found here, here, and here.

This section of the lot has been affected by fire before, eighteen years ago. Some areas that were destroyed are quite familiar to the public, such as the King Kong segment of the theme park's studio tour. The tram tour also takes guests through the New York streets, where scenes from CBS' Ghost Whisperer are filmed, and which are now completely destroyed. Of the facades that were ruined, perhaps the most upsetting to me is the courthouse and courtyard square, which are indelibly set in my mind as the Hill Valley courthouse and clocktower from the Back to the Future franchise.

As a huge fan of the Back to the Future movies, it has been a great source of joy for me to visit this section of Hill Valley ever since I started working on the Universal Studios lot in January. I've taken my sack lunch to New York street more than a couple of times, enjoying the bizarre experience of sitting on a fake sidewalk in a fake city, eating a real bagel. When my friend and fellow intern took an hour to run around taking photos of each other on the backlot one day, we'd hoped to take one at the courthouse, but never got around to it. It's a shame that I never went back to visit it now that it's gone. I know this isn't really a tragedy, and mercifully there were no serious injuries, but still -- the area of the lot that was destroyed was indeed iconic.

The film vault, protected by steel and concrete, was not harmed, protecting irreplaceable negatives. There were tens of thousands of other videos and reels that were lost to the fire, however, though thankfully they are backed up in another location at the NBC studios in Burbank. It will be interesting to see how this setback will affect the company's plans to consolidate all Los Angeles NBC and Universal offices onto the lot at Universal City. It is a momentous change and occasion for the company, and may be pushed back by the damages.

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