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BULLEThistory archive

History Archive Photo
Tucsonans watch as firefighters battle the Pacific Fruit Express Co. fire in April 1970.

© Arizona Historical Society

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Playing With Fire
Warehouse fires are often newsworthy, but when the source of the blaze is a couple of kids, the fire usually ends up on the front page. That's what happened in Tucson in April 1970.

By Danielle Grobmeier

Forty-four years ago this month, one of Tucson’s historic warehouses went up in flames. It wasn’t an electrical fire or a gas explosion. Instead, the Pacific Fruit Express Co. building on the 800 block of 12th Street burned to the ground when a couple of kids decided to play with fire.

The building was vacant at the time — owner Bud Antle had been trying to sell the four-story, 90,000-square-foot former ice plant — and that surely played a role in attracting the children on the night of April 7, 1970, when, according to the Arizona Daily Star, a column of smoke rose 500 feet into the air and could be seen more than 20 miles away.

The Tucson Daily Citizen was more hyperbolic in its description of the fire: “Sparks backlashed over the roof height of about 100 feet onto the southeast side like a continuous gigantic Roman candle starburst of a July 4th celebration.”

The fire injured seven firefighters, one of whom was Richard Moreno. While working to contain the fire from nearly 40 feet up a ladder, Moreno suffered first- and second-degree burns.
“I put my hands up to my face, and (the fire) got my wrists as far as the gloves go,” Moreno was quoted as saying in the Daily Citizen article.

Several days after the blaze, in a follow-up story, the newspaper reported that the two children, ages 10 and 11, were playing with match guns in the warehouse and decided to build a fire. When they couldn’t contain it or stomp out the flames, they took off running.

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