The Fire: A Tragic Night

On the night of the fire, at about 7:55 PM, two people were seen running from the building. Witnesses reported seeing them igniting papers and stuffing them into a vent on one of the arcade pillars at the front corner of the building. The fire department received the first alarm at 8:14 PM and dispatched three engine and two truck companies, however the fire had already made considerable progress and a second alarm was sent at 8:27 PM, bringing in three more engine companies, one truck and a rescue company. It appeared the fire would come under control, until it raged up at the back of the building, sounding a third alarm at 9:22 PM for three more engine and two truck companies to set up at the rear of the building.

The fire roared through the stucco-veneer wooden structure, with hollow walls made of lath and plaster acting as chimneys for the destructive flames, which traveled up into the attic spaces and burned through the roof. The entire building was now threatened and all firefighters were removed from the interior and rooftop. Five water towers were set up to pour onto the building, along with one monitor nozzle and several large hand lines were employed. Fifteen units, comprised of 83 personnel, battled the hellfire, bringing it under control shortly after midnight. Fortunately, no firefighters or civilians were injured, but the building was a total loss.

Maggie Davies, the Museum’s administrative assistant, was on the freeway that night driving home from Old Town when she saw the mountainous flames, visible for miles. She doubled back to Balboa Park and was horrified as she watched the fire consume the Museum. “It was like a nightmare… a stunning, dumbfounding experience.”

Coverage of the fire from local media:

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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