Hollywood on Fire

King Kong will roar no more for visitors to Universal Studios Hollywood. The simian was destroyed in a huge early-morning blaze Sunday that consumed at least two buildings and the equivalent of three city blocks on the Universal backlot.

Lost to the flames are much of the location backdrops for countless movies and TV shows: Courthouse Square of Back to the Future fame, including the clock tower that precipitated Michael J. Fox’s time travel; New York Street, which has long been used to replicate Gotham and was twice rebuilt after previous infernos; and the soundstage housing the seven-ton, 30-foot animatronic Kong that regularly terrifies Studio Tour visitors. 

As of this writing, the fire is contained, though the video vault continues to burn. On live coverage, employees could be seen frantically shuttling boxes of retrieved tapes away from the area. Some 40,000 videos and reels were damaged, but though the process will be laborious, there are duplicates. “Nothing irreplaceable was lost,” said Universal president Ron Meyer, who clearly had been pulled out of bed.

Some 400 L.A. city and county firefighters battled the blaze but were hampered by conditions that “overwhelmed that local water pressure system,” Chief P. Michael Freeman said. Instead, firefighters used studio lakes and ponds to scoop up water and also “relay pumping,” which allows them to grab water from farther away and pass it from truck to truck.

The fire broke out around 4:45 am and sent billows of thick black smoke into the Hollywood Hills and four firefighters to the hospital. Several explosions could be heard, which led to talk of a precipitating bomb threat. Freeman confirmed that all blasts were related to small propane tanks and compressed cylinders on the property, with none the result of suspicious activity.

No cause has been determined for the blaze, and damage estimates have yet to be tallied. Of the many productions currently filming, most immediately affected is Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Ghost Whisperer, which lost at least two of its several backlot sets. For you Desperate folks, Wisteria Lane remains unaffected.

The fire occurred hours before setup and arrivals were to begin for tonight’s MTV Movie Awards, but officials say that show will go on. Nothing deters Mike Myers on a promo mission.