1944 Gene Kelly film burns at Stanford Theatre Other Topics, posted by Editor, The Almanac Online, on Apr 6, 2009 at 1:22 pm
The 1944 film "Cover Girl," starring Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth, caught fire Thursday night about 10 minutes into the film at Stanford Theatre in downtown Palo Alto, forcing evacuation and temporary closure.
Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, April 4, 2009, 6:25 PM
Posted by Steve, a resident of another community, on Apr 6, 2009 at 8:58 pm
Water DOES help to extinguish a nitrate fire by cooling things. Nitrate generates its own oxygen so you won't put it out by occluding air but cool it enough and it will go out.
Sprinklers activate individually from heat, not all over as is often erroneously shown in TV and movies.
Obviously the theatre itself did not catch fire. That theatre is appropriately equipped to run nitrate prints (which haven't been made in well over half a century). I don't know anything about this incident so cannot say if everything worked the way it is supposed to--it does sound like they lost part of a reel and not just the strip of film passing through the projector and soundhead since I don't know if a sprinkler would trigger otherwise.
But then again I don't know how well the so-called fire trap rollers that isolate the enclosed feed and takeup magazines ever did work in the best of circumstances.
But overall, water damage aside it sounds like things were handled ok. Nitrate film was successfully handled in thousands of theatres across the country and around the world for half a century. Fires sometimes happened...sometimes far worse than this. It's part of our movie heritage. I hope it doesn't disappear entirely, even with the risks.
Posted by Micah, a resident of another community, on Apr 7, 2009 at 10:43 am
After working with nitrocellulose film for many years, I must say that water will only make a nitrate fire seem worse due to steam generated. It is also dangerous to douse a projector with lots of water. It will not help extinguish the fire. It is best to let it burn itself out. If the (legally required for running flammable film stocks) reel magazines and fire trap rollers are in proper condition and used appropriately the fire won't last long. A substantial piece of nitrate film will burn even if put at the bottom of a bucket of water. How quickly and furiously the fire burns is also a direct result of the level of decomposition of the film.
Posted by Micah, a resident of another community, on Apr 7, 2009 at 11:01 am
When I just re-read my previous post, I left something very important out; That is that water is useless on a nitrate fire WHILE PROJECTING! Water from sprinklers is effective at stopping or reducing the effects of nitrate fires in film storage cabinets and vaults, or even out on the rewind bench. While the film is running through the projector though, it is best to step aside while it burns out.