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In the opening scene of Back to the Future, a clipping from 1962 is hanging on the wall of Doc Brown's garage lab, with the headline “Brown Mansion Destroyed”.

Despite the producers believing that this plot point was important enough to introduce, none of the three movies ever adress this story beyond the fact that the mansion no longer exists in 1985.

It clearly wasn't set on fire by lightning the night in 1955 when Marty went back to the present.

So what is the story with the fire in Doc Brown's house?

Clipping mentioned above

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Bleeding Cool addresses this:

In the Blu Ray commentary for Back To the Future, producer Bob Gale says:

The opening shot, when the camera is going through Doc’s laboratory, there’s a newspaper on the wall that says the Brown mansion was destroyed in a fire. You can infer from that that maybe Doc set his house on fire to collect the insurance money.

However, the BTTF comic has a somewhat alternate explanation:

In today’s Back To The Future #2 comic book from IDW Entertainment written by Bob Gale, it seems not. Well, not entirely.

I mean, he did burn down his mansion. But it was only to restore a timeline. Some have wondered why, after the information and experience with a working flux capacitor in the original movie, the 1950’s Doc Brown didn’t then go one to build a better, faster time machine, funded by the military. Well, it seems, he did.

And it changed the future even more. So he had no option but to destroy the original.

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His dream cost him his family fortune so torching the place for insurance money would explain why he is living in a garage. From '62-'85 he has being using that money to further his research. Knowing he will succeed would make him mostly fearless to persue his goal of time travel. That would include stealing from a terrorist group.

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