Universal Studios Fire

Nick Ut/AP Photo

Accidents do happen, some more destructive than others.

Los Angeles fire officials have determined that the blaze that tore through the Universal Studios backlot yesterday morning was set off accidentally by workers making repairs to one of the sets.

"The investigation has ruled out any deliberate actions on the part of anyone," L.A. County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman said at a news conference Monday.

Two workers and a supervisor were using a blowtorch to apply asphalt shingles to the roof of a building on the New York/New Jersey street set, Freeman said. Following protocol, the men waited about an hour after finishing up and, when they saw no signs of fire, they took a break at 4 a.m.

"At 4:43, a security guard in the vicinity of the backlot...noticed the fire and immediately notified the fire department," Freeman said. "At approximately the same time, the workers returned to the location and also witnessed the fire and confirmed with the security guard that the fire department had been notified."

Nine firefighters and a sheriff's deputy suffered minor injuries. The fire destroyed most of the New York City street, sets used in films such as Back to the Future, Bruce Almighty and To Kill a Mockingbird; a warehouse containing more than 40,000 videos (all of which exist in copies elsewhere, officials said) and the King Kong portion of the Universal Studios tram ride.

Reports have also pegged the rapid spread of the fire, which covered an area the size of two city blocks at one point, on a taxed water-pressue system at the site.

"Obviously it was not effective at preventing the spread of the fire," Freeman said.

L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said an interdepartmental assessment team has been established to investigate.

"Was there an infrastructure, mechanical or human error problem, or a combination, or none of the above?" Yaroslavsky said. "It has a lot of implications for this fire and other fires."

Meanwhile, the 2008 MTV Movie Awards and red carpet festivities went on as scheduled yesterday afternoon at the nearby Gibson Amphitheatre, while Universal Studios and the adjacent CityWalk entertainment district reopened today.

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