CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Fire that started in a popcorn machine Saturday destroyed the Orson Welles Cinema, a landmark theater known for showing artistic, classic and controversial films.
About 40 to 50 people were in the theater when the fire started at about 2 p.m., but all the moviegoers were safely evacuated.
'They had exits right in front of them,' said Cambridge Fire Department Investigator Edward J. Fowler. 'There was no problem with the evacuation.'
Two nearby businesses, Chi Chi's, a Mexican restaurant and bar, and Videomax, a video rental outlet, sustained heavy smoke and water damage, Fowler said.
Fowler said the fire started in the popcorn machine in the theater's lobby. When a theater employee tried to attack the flames with a fire extinguisher, they lept to the lobby's walls and ceiling.
'The fire traveled the length of the theater probably in about a minute,' Fowler said. 'When we arrived, there was a thick plume of black smoke about eight blocks long.'
Fowler said the investigation is focusing on the popcorn machine's thermostat control, which he said may have been defective.
'Apparently they thought the machine was off, but it was still cooking,' Fowler said.
Public transportation along Massachusetts Avenue was dirupted for about two hours because of the fire, with buses rerouted to avoid the cinema, named after the famous film actor and director.
Firefighters declined to estimate the cost of the damages.
The blaze remained under investigation but was not termed suspicious.