Popcorn fire forces evacuation of theater

By LYNN BULMAHN
Staff Writer

Last update: 04 August 2003


ORANGE CITY -- When Denise Long and her husband, Tom Westmacott, went to the movies Monday night to celebrate their 24th wedding anniversary, the hottest action was in the concession stand instead of on the screen.

Eight units of the Orange City Fire Department and Deltona Fire-Rescue Service responded to an alarm at the United Artists Theatre on Saxon Boulevard shortly after 8:30 p.m. when the theater's popcorn machine caught fire.

No one was hurt in the mishap, authorities said.

"We were watching our movie when a fire alarm came on," said Priscilla Vitale, 13, who begins eighth grade at Galaxy Middle School next week. "We thought it was a false alarm."

Priscilla was with a group of friends watching "American Wedding" when the smell of smoke and burnt popcorn filled the air.

Deputy Chief Robert Rogers of Deltona Fire-Rescue said damage was minor and limited to the popcorn machine.

"Management had everyone evacuated from the building when we arrived, so we were able to extinguish it fairly quickly," Rogers said.

But Long said movie patrons had to get out by themselves, without any assistance from employees or management.

"There was nobody there to help anybody -- no ushers, no managers, nobody to be seen," said Long, who was stirred from her seat and her movie, "Pirates of the Caribbean."

"The smoke alarm went off and everyone sat there for a while. Not one employee made a point to get anybody out," she said.

A fellow moviegoer went out of the auditorium and came back to announce there was a fire.

"Everyone was trying to go out the front, which was filled with smoke, and we tried to tell them to use the side exits," Westmacott added.

Rogers said the oil used in the popcorn machine was responsible for most of the smoke.

A theater employee, who declined to give her name, estimated there were 100 to 150 patrons in the eight-screen movie complex when the fire started.

Firefighters identified a manager at the scene who would not give her name. She said she could not comment on the incident and didn't know whether the theater would be open Tuesday.

The theater is owned by Regal Entertainment Group of Knoxville, Tenn.

lynn.bulmahn@news-jrnl.com