1944 Gene Kelly film burns at Stanford Theatre
Original post made on Apr 6, 2009
Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, April 4, 2009, 6:25 PM
on Apr 6, 2009 at 1:22 pm
Glad nobody was hurt... and very sorry to hear about the fire and water damage... but...
When does a theater catch fire when the flames are limited to the projector?
The former newsman in me gets a bit tee'd off when there's a blatant inaccuracy in the writing of a story... or in this case, the patron's e-mail.
And since water doesn't put out burning nitrate film... what caused the burning film to extinguish?
Was it indeed nitrate, or a print on acetate safety film? And how would the patron know?
How much of that reel of film was lost?
Was the water damage confined to the booth, or does the theater's sprinkler system turn on sprinklers everywhere when there's an activation in just one part of the building?
The theater's website and answering machine don't mention the fire or being closed... and the website at shows the theater as being closed on Wed. and Thurs. the 2nd and 3rd.
So... what's the REAL story... and were any films on-site affected, aside from the reel in the projector?
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.
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.