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Official: Cause of Tyler Perry fire ‘undetermined'

The cause of the spectacular fire that damaged Tyler Perry Studios in southwest Atlanta may never be determined, Atlanta's fire chief said Wednesday.

“The cause of the fire will be recorded as undetermined," Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin J. Cochran said in an emailed statement Wednesday afternoon. "The intensity of the fire in the area of origin consumed any evidence that would lead to a cause of ignition."

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Atlanta Fire Department Capt. Jolyon Bundrige said Wednesday that the fire damaged the exterior of the building, but "due to the concrete masonry construction behind the exterior fascia, fire did not penetrate the interior of the building." The interior did suffer some water damage, he said.

Firefighters were able to contain the blaze to one building in the center of the 30-acre complex owned by the Atlanta filmmaker, Bundrige said.

The first report of a fire came in at 8:41 p.m., and before it was over, more than 100 firefighters had responded to a blaze that quickly escalated to four alarms.

“The command decisions to call for the fourth alarm response early in the incident was key to the quick extinguishment and stopping fire spread to other buildings at the studio," Cochran said. "Rather than the fire overwhelming our firefighters, we had enough firefighters on scene to overwhelm the incident.”

The fascia of the affected building collapsed, but its structural integrity was not compromised, Bundrige said. No injuries were reported.

Though the flames were extinguished within an hour, many firefighters remained for several hours putting out hot spots. Several units were still there around midnight conducting a damage assessment, including salvage and overhaul.

Perry was at his Continental Colony Parkway complex Tuesday night and spoke with Cochran, but did not talk to reporters gathered nearby, Bundrige said. Employees leaving the studio grounds after the fire told reporters they were instructed not to speak to the media.

Late Wednesday morning, a spokeswoman for the studios issued the following statement:

"Atlanta firefighters responded immediately to a fire which damaged the backlot façade of one of the buildings at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta. We are grateful that there were no injuries, and that 99 percent of the damage is limited to the backlot facade. Mr. Perry wishes to express his heartfelt thanks to the Atlanta fire department for their professionalism in their quick response and limiting the damage."

Dorothy Ware, a resident of the Asbury Harris Epworth Towers senior housing apartments next door, said she first learned of the fire from a guard who came around to alert residents.

The guard told anyone who had cars parked along the fence next to the studios to move their vehicles so fire engines could get in, Ware said. She went outside and described the scene.

“It was all in flames," she said. "The building started popping. Whatever the fire was hitting, was blowing up. There were plenty of sparks coming over here where we are.”

The flames shot as high as the nearby trees, roughly six stories in height, she said.

The 200,000-square foot studio, which opened in 2008, is home to sets, sound stages and a 400-seat theater. In March, Perry hosted a fundraiser for President Barack Obama at the studio.

Perry has worked as director, writer, producer, actor and playwright. His film credits include "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," "Meet the Browns" and "I Can Do Bad All By Myself." His latest movie, "Madea's Witness Protection," is scheduled to open June 29.

-- Staff writers Mike Morris and Jennifer Brett contributed to this article.