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Universal blaze prompts probe

L.A. County officials OK a review to see if building codes for film studio lots need to be tougher.

June 05, 2008|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

After the massive fire at Universal Studios Hollywood, Los Angeles County officials are studying whether building codes for movie sets, sound stages and production facilities should be strengthened.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky called for county fire officials to examine whether highly combustible sets should be covered by the same building and fire regulations that apply to office and industrial buildings.

The Board of Supervisors approved the measure Wednesday.

The review will examine whether a change would help prevent fires while taking into account the possible economic effects, the supervisor said.

"While being mindful of the importance of the entertainment industry to the region's economy, this is a prudent time to take stock of existing building regulations," Yaroslavsky said.

The fire Sunday destroyed Universal's heavily used New York street set and the studio's iconic "King Kong" studio tour attraction.

County fire officials said Monday that workers applying roof shingles with a blowtorch touched off the blaze. It was a situation made worse, firefighters said, because the fire was not detected for half an hour, allowing it to grow into an inferno.

But firefighters were also confronted by a slew of other problems, including a nasty brew of flammable materials, exploding fuel tanks, burning vehicles and heat radiating from corrugated-metal buildings, officials said.

Yaroslavsky said he was particularly interested in how stricter codes would apply to sound stages, building facades and temporary buildings on studio property. He said he was concerned that firefighters had so much trouble getting to the burning corrugated-metal buildings.

The report is expected to look at temporary structures on studio lots, including their size, the materials they are made of and their proximity to inhabited buildings, which are subject to stringent building codes.

Yaroslavsky said officials would also have to determine whether the regulations would apply retroactively or to new construction. Given the ferocity of the fire, all the issues have to be fully examined, he said.

Another big concern was a lack of water pressure encountered when firefighters initially responded to the Universal blaze, said Yaroslavsky, who wants to make sure that other studios don't face the same problem.

Los Angeles fire inspectors say they have seen marked improvement in fire prevention systems at studios over the last decade, although risks remain high.

In just the last year, city fire officials ordered one major studio to clean up a basement under a sound stage that was piled to the ceiling with boxes and other combustible materials.

Fire investigators and officials say they have been aided by tougher state fire laws that spell out minimum basic fire prevention requirements for studios and production facilities.

Last year, those rules were expanded to cover not just studios but any production location within the state.

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andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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