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VALLEY ROUNDUP | Canoga Park

Fire Races Through Animatronics Firm

August 24, 2000|GREG RISLING

An animatronics company responsible for the Budweiser frogs and other commercial creatures was gutted by a fire that raged for more than an hour Wednesday morning, authorities said.

The fire began about 7:45 a.m. in the Character Shop, a tenant of the Sunnyglen Industrial Park in the 9300 block of Owensmouth Avenue. More than 80 firefighters battled the flames, which were fueled by chemicals inside the building, said Bob Collis, a Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman.

Two firefighters and one company employee were taken to local hospitals, where they were treated for smoke inhalation and released. Five Los Angeles police officers and six other people were examined and released at the scene.

The Character Shop is a special-effects company that makes robotic puppets for movies and television commercials. The company's creations include the chorus of frogs used in the Budweiser commercials and the fugitive chickens in Foster Farms advertisements.

No one at the company could be reached for comment.

"There was someone inside using a cutting torch, and we are looking to see whether that caused the fire," Fire Capt. Steve Ruda said.

The challenge for firefighters was twofold: limiting the blaze to the three units occupied by the Character Shop and protecting people outside from possible toxic fumes. Ruda said the production facility contained acetone and resins that could cause respiratory problems.

Other tenants evacuated their businesses as dark plumes of smoke and flames shot 20 to 30 feet in the air.

"One of my workers called me and said to get here quick . . . the place was on fire," said Kevin Campbell, who runs a hardware supply company at the industrial park. "Luckily, there only appears to be smoke and water damage. I'm supposed to be in June Lake right now fishing. Guess this changes my plans."

The roof of the building was partially caved in, Collis said. He estimated the loss at $150,000 for the structure and $400,000 for the contents.

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