Fire rips through Cinecitta studios

5:00 AM PST 08/11/2007 by Eric J. Lyman, AP

Set of "Dr. Who" among casualties

ROME -- The new season of "Dr. Who" is among the casualties of the massive fire that swept Rome's legendary Cinecitta Studios late Thursday and into Friday morning, destroying about 32,000 square feet of the complex.

The flames leapt as high as 125 feet, according to eyewitnesses, and dozens of firefighters were needed to subdue the blaze before it could reach densely populated neighborhoods near the studios or any of the most famous sets. The local media estimated the cost of the damage between €2 million ($2.8 million)-€5 million ($6.9 million), mostly to the set of the HBO-BBC series "Rome," which finished filming last year.

But the "Rome" set was to be used for Britain's "Dr. Who," in which the title character -- played by David Tennant -- travels back in time to ancient Rome. Indications are that the set can be cleaned up enough for the episodes to be filmed at a later date, though one media report said that the series' producers were considering filming elsewhere in Italy.

Preliminary investigations by firefighters from the Ciampino airport, near the studios, indicated that the fire was likely started by a short circuit in a small warehouse near the "Rome" set. Officials said there was no evidence of foul play.

"The forum and the villa part of the 'Rome' set are fine, but the fire destroyed about a third of the slum area in ancient Rome, which I suppose is typical," Maurizio Sperandini, Cinecitta's deputy GM, said in a telephone interview.

Because the fire started at night -- around 10 p.m. Thursday -- it spread from the warehouse to a wooden part of the "Rome" set before the alarm was sounded. But the late hour also assured that there were no injuries and that firefighters from the city of Rome, the nearby town of Frascati as well as Ciampino airport were able to arrive quickly, unimpeded by traffic.

The area damaged was only about 3% of the area covered by the complex that sometimes is called "Hollywood on the Tiber," billed as Europe's largest film studios. The studios have 30 sound stages, five backlots and a complete postproduction lab.

The studios were founded in 1937, but they garnered an international reputation as a symbol of Italy's postwar rebirth.

Cinecitta was closely identified with such directors as Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica and was the site of such epic films as "Ben-Hur" and "Cleopatra" and several modern films, including "Gangs of New York" and "Passion of the Christ."

In all, about 3,000 productions that have won a total of 48 Oscars have been shot at Cinecitta.
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