Universal Studios backlot fire

Woke up this morning at 5:30am to the sound of several loud pops, like someone slamming their car door shut over and over again. Figured it was the Times’ delivery dude making his usual racket, and though I was tempted, I somehow resisted the urge to throw open the window and bitch him out.

Then, a few minutes later, I heard helicopters. Circling. Overhead. Forever! I’m not kidding, it sounded like they were landing in our front yard. Realizing that the last few hours of my Sunday slumber were completely shot, I opened the blinds to see massive plumes of dark smoke swirling skyward.

In my groggy state, I actually entertained the notion that my “Lost” obsession had really gone too far this time and that the island’s black smoke monster was coming to take me home. But NBC4’s trusty Ted Chen quickly put those concerns to rest when he reported that a massive fire (of unknown origin) was roaring through the Universal Studio’s backlot.

And the footage he showed was insane! Flames and red hot ash shooting into the air at Universal City — which is like, minutes from our place — it looked like a Goddamn volcano! And it smelled — and continues to smell — like what it really was, burning sets, props and scads of videotapes from the Universal vault.

I know it’s terrible, but at least that big old fire on Barham last year smelled organic, you know, like trees and shit. Everywhere we went in Burbank this morning — still looking for that elusive Wii Fit — smelled like burnt plastic. And with no wind in sight, I think it’s gonna stay that way…

According to Ted Chen — who referred to the Universal-backlot-shot “Bruce Almighty” as a “classic” in his frantic, man-on-the-scene reportage this morning — the Universal videotape vault is completely backed up elsewhere, so nothing truly valuable is gone forever. That goes double for the film archive, which was nowhere near the fire. So, whew…

But, man alive, that backlot tram tour is gonna be real short ride in the next few months. With almost all of New York Street and the “Back to the Future” town square set leveled, the aerial shots look like a war zone.

Seriously, that backlot is totaled. And with the fire contained, but smoke still billowing skyward as I type, I don’t imagine there will be much to salvage anywhere on that lower lot.

But there is some good news in all this…according to the last thing I heard from my boy Ted, the MTV Movie Awards will still be taping live tonight from the Gibson Amphitheater at Universal, and despite the fact that the “King Kong” attraction was burnt to the ground, the theme park will be open for business as usual today starting at noon.

Hooray! Nothing says summer theme park fun like riding “Jurrasic Park: The Ride” with a damp towel clutched to your nose and mouth the whole time.

So, while we desperately try and make up for lost sleep — the fire is over, go home helicopters! — wanted to thank the firefighters for putting that thing out hella fast, Universal Studios Theme Park for bravely keeping your doors open to tourists (even during the worst of times!), and most of all, thank you, Ted Chen for making this morning’s chaos so, well…classic!

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Universal Studios backlot fire

  1. Melissa

    As I’m sure you heard, we had a pretty scary fire here a week and a half ago. A few people I know had to evacuate, but fortunately, everyone is fine and back home. I’m glad the smoke here just smelled like “trees and shit”, because it was pretty bad. They sent us home from work the first day because the whole office stank of smoke; I still have a little lingering cough left. I can’t imagine what my lungs would feel like if I’d been breathing burnt plastic!

  2. Wow, Universal Studios does some pretty cool special effects. I’m impressed every time! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. yeti9000

    Melissa: Yeah, I feel you about the smoke inhalation thing…after our failed Wii Fit hunt this morning, we have tried to stay indoors with the windows shut. It smells like freaking Chernobyl outside!

    James: Those ain’t no special effects, dude! But I did find out just now that the theme park did NOT open as planned today. Guess the fire chief didn’t think the smoke was good for the tourists.

    But surprisingly, the MTV Movie Awards are still on, so watch for some sooty action on the old red carpet this year! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Wan

    HEY — I work in the building closest the backlot and park on the hill that overlooks New York Street. It’s a big sad sooty mess.

  5. Wan: take some pictures if you can.

  6. yeti9000

    Oh man, Wan, I didn’t realize you were working there! I’ll bet it smells like hell right now…but, yeah, like James said, take lots of pictures!

    I’m just glad nobody got hurt and that your office is still there today! Yikes…what a disaster this whole thing has been… ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

  7. Wan

    We were super duper lucky — the fires stopped just across the little street that separates our building from the backlot. There wasn’t power for the first hour(s) of business on Monday, but we were up and running by 9:30 AM. When I got there and saw it, it was so sad! I’ll definitely try to snap some pics when the fire crews are gone.

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