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Universal Studios Fire Deemed Accidental

Investigators said Monday that an intense but contained fire on the Universal Studios lot in Los Angeles was caused by a construction accident.

The fire broke out in the early morning hours Sunday, destroying roughly three city blocks of outdoor movie and TV sets and a warehouse holding digital copies of programming.

The Los Angeles Times said county fire officials attributed the blaze to three workers using a blowtorch to install roof shingles in an alley on the New York Street set. After the workers left, the fire broke out.

No NBCU employees were hurt, but nine of the 350 firefighters and police who responded to the blaze sustained minor injuries.

In 1990, a larger fire burned a larger four-acre swath of the Universal backlot, prompting installation of a sprinkler system. However, the sprinklers did not seem effective Sunday.

As of Monday morning, firefighters were still dousing hot spots, although the blaze was contained the day before.

The facility’s Universal Studios and CityWalk tourist attractions were closed Sunday but opened Monday, as did NBC Universal's executive offices.

The 2008 MTV Movie Awards at the Gibson Amphitheater at CityWalk went on Sunday evening as scheduled.

In a note to employees, NBCU said: “The fire was contained to one section of the backlot. Unfortunately. New York Street and the King Kong attraction were lost, but the iconic courthouse on Courthouse Square and one-half of the buildings facing the square were saved.”

Courthouse Square was made famous in the Back to the Future movies.

“Also affected was a video vault containing thousands of video and digital copies of films and TV shows,” NBCU continued. “Although many of these items were lost, we believe that most, if not all, are replaceable. It is important to note as well that none of the 30 soundstages on the lot was damaged.”

The fire damaged just a small portion of the sprawling, 415-acre studio lot that houses production facilities, theme parks, the live-event amphitheater, a multiplex movie theater, hotels and executive offices.

According to USA Today, "Only one television show, [CBS'] Ghost Whisperer, which uses eight locations on the Universal lot, could experience delays" due to the fire.

Since acquiring NBCU in 2003, parent General Electric has pursued aggressive real-estate development of the studio facility, which is home for production of theatrical films and big-budget scripted TV programs. This includes plans to eventually move NBC television production and executive offices from its smaller 34-acre Burbank facility nearby to the Universal studios property.