One of the most infamous behind-the-scenes incidents on Star Trek: Voyager involved a set fire that badly damaged the bridge. The fire was reported in magazines of the time, but the stars of the show have also given more recent interviews that shed a light on the tense atmosphere on set during this scary incident. If you’ve ever wanted the insider’s take on how the fire impacted the actors on set, read on to learn more about this set fire, and other set fires in Trek history. Here’s what you need to know.
A Fire Occured on the Voyager Bridge Set
In the fall of 1998, a fire broke out by accident on the set of Star Trek: Voyager. Years later, some of the details were revealed in the press. A huge portion of the April 2000 issue of Cinefantastique magazine was devoted to Star Trek: Voyager, which included an interview with actor Robert Duncan McNeill. According to the actor, who played Tom Paris on the series, the fire was due to heat and dust. The show had been on the air for five seasons, and clearly a bit of dusting was in order.
“We’ve been here five years, and there’s some dust that has collected on top of these sets, on the ceilings. There are lights that hang up high and one of the light bulbs popped,” McNeill told the magazine. “I guess the spark smoldered down in the dust, and caught fire on the ceiling of the bridge, right during a photo shoot with Rick Berman on the bridge. I don’t know what the connection is, but I am sure there is some meaning behind it. No one was hurt, but we had a hungry crew, and our lunch was on that stage.”
The 2000 book Delta Quadrant by David McIntee is generally considered to be the unofficial guide to Star Trek: Voyager. On page 281 (according to Memory Alpha), the book discusses the timing and severity of the set fire, noting that a backdrop was also damaged during the incident. The book notes that the fire itself was small, and most of the damage was due to the water damage from the sprinklers, not from the heat of the flames.
A Star Had Stern Words for a Producer in the Wake of the Fire
More recently, McNeill had reason to comment on the fire again. Back in 2020, TrekMovie.com interviewed Robert Duncan McNeill and fellow Voyager co-star Garrett Wang. The two actors had recently started a podcast together, and shared more details of their experience on the day of the infamous set fire.
As Wang tells it, he and actor Ethan Phillips happened to be released first for dinner that night. The two actors made their way to the bridge set, where a catered dinner was waiting for them. Producer and showrunner Rick Berman was also there, giving a press interview. Suddenly, the men noticed something was very wrong.
“I turn around, and to light Berman for the photo shoot one of the lights caught this really thin gauzy scrim [a type of fabric used in lighting design] that was right above the bridge,” Wang explained. “It caught it on fire. And literally I turned around in time to see Berman see the fire and run out of there. He made a sound and he ran. Billy Peets, the gaffer, he comes in and all the crew, we yelled for them to come in, and they came in and helped put the fire out. But the showrunner ran from the scene.”
McNeill chimed in, saying that he remembered the “group panic” of people running out of the stage to get away from the flames. This prompted Wang to clarify his position about how certain members of the crew responded during the crisis.
“But the group panic, Robbie, started with Berman,” Wang told his friend and former co-star during the interview. “When the showrunner runs out screaming then everyone else was like, ‘Whoa, has the Tasmanian devil been released on the set? Are people being killed?’ He set the tone. Right?”
Wang added: “I really feel that that that set would have been less damaged if Berman just handled it a little differently.”
Wang added that the “only people who didn’t run” during the fire were Ethan Philips, and Wang himself. According to Wang, the two men remained cool under pressure, and went over to where the fire extinguisher was kept.
A Set Fire Plagued ‘Star Trek: The Search for Spock’
Stage lights often operate at very high temperatures, and accidents can happen with draped fabric or dust. In fact, Voyager wasn’t the only Star Trek production to get hit by a fire. In our guide to the ongoing feud between William Shatner and George Takei, we featured a clip of Shatner being interviewed after a fire broke out on the Paramount backlot.
At the time, Shatner was on the backlot to film Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. The fire caused $3 million worth of damage in 1983 dollars. Years later, speaking to Nerdist in 2017, Shatner spoke out about the day of the fire. Shatner recalled that he was trying to navigate filming both a new Trek film and his TV series T.J. Hooker at the time of the Paramount fire. And had the fire been more intense, it’s possible that Shatner might have had to leave his TV show.
“I had to be out of filming Star Trek and get to the series by a certain date to start shooting,” Shatner explained to Nerdist. “Then a fire started on the set, and while we waited for the fire department, I remember I was so desperate that nothing be harmed that I ran in with a garden hose, and I started to hose the fire down. The fireman said if I hadn’t done that, the set would have burned down, and they would have had to rebuild it. It would have delayed the film, and then I would have had to go against my TV series contract.”