Stunt people react to an explosion during one of the scenarios.

Stunt people react to an explosion during one of the scenarios. (Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times / October 30, 2012)

Five soldiers dressed in camouflage and carrying machine guns took cover behind a stack of wooden pallets. One yelled “incoming” and a few seconds later a large explosion ignited behind them, setting off a ball of flame rising 30 feet high. The soldiers fell to the ground from the force of the blast, a concoction of black powder and gasoline.

The scene was one of many pyrotechnic stunts performed Thursday at the Burbank Fire Department Training Center for a crowd of Southern California firefighters who were attending a three-day course on how to become a certified motion picture and television safety officer.

The California State Fire Marshal's office launched the program two decades ago to educate local fire department officials about potential hazards on films sets – including  faulty wiring, blocked exits and flammable materials -- and how pyrotechnic specialists and stunt performers do their jobs.

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