Universal Orlando Resort has appeared to be turning a corner when it comes to dealing with running theme parks during a pandemic. And then things had to go and literally catch fire. It's being reported that a small fire broke out this morning at an area of Universal's Islands of Adventure. Visitors to the park today saw black smoke rising form the segment of Toon Lagoon that houses the water ride Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges. At this point, it's unclear what was the cause or how much damage has been done.
First reported by Universal Parks News Today, the fire was apparently localized to the Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges attraction. The good news there is that the ride, and much of the surrounding area, had been recently closed down for a significant ride refurbishment, so there were no guests and likely limited staff in the area. It's unclear if the fire is related to the work that was being done, but that certainly seems plausible. The black smoke was reportedly gone fairly quickly so it seems that whatever caused the fire was brought under control quickly.
Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges is a water ride familiar to anybody who has visited theme parks or water parks before. Ride vehicles sit guests in a circle on a large air-filled tube, then they're sent down a path filled with rapids, turns, and drops, guaranteed to cover everybody with water.
Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges went down for a planned refurbishment earlier this month, it's fairly common for water rides to get work done this time of year. Even in Florida the cooler temperatures simply make such rides less popular since nobody needs to beat the heat in quite the same way. However, rather than simply the ride shutting down, a larger section of the Toon Lagoon land, including the nearby restaurant and Popeye's boat walkthrough attraction, were also closed down, which seemed to imply a larger than anticipated refurbishment.
Early reports from Islands of Adventure are that there were no injuries caused by the fire, and whatever happened should not extend the closure of the attraction. Still, fires are, you know, bad, and shouldn't be happening inside theme parks especially when the public is walking around. If this had expanded and become worse, the damage to lives and property could have been extensive. There will certainly be investigations into what happened here to make sure it doesn't happen in the future.
We've reached out to Universal Orlando for comment to try and get more information as to exactly what happened here. In the end, it's simply a good thing that nobody was hurt and the fire was brought under control quickly. Theme parks are massive places with many moving parts and sometimes accidents are going to happen, but there are a lot of people, both guests and employees who rely on the safety protocols in place to make sure everybody has a positive theme park experience.
Update: Universal Orlando Resort has issued the following statement regarding the incident.
A piece of equipment, at an attraction closed for maintenance, caught fire and was quickly extinguished.