Disasters—Tucson and Southern Arizona

The following list includes some disasters from Tucson and Southern Arizona history.

Aspen Fire

The fire began on June 17, 2003 on Mount Lemmon.  Mount Lemmon was evacuated on the evening of June 17. The fire was contained on July 15, 2003. The Aspen fire burned 84,750 acres.  It destroyed 333 structures.  It burned down most of the community of Summerhaven.

Bighorn Fire

The fire began the evening of June 5, 2020 with a lightning strike in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. It burned 119,987 acres before finally being put out on July 23, 2020. Residents of the Catalina Foothills neighborhood, Oro Valley, Mount Lemmon, and Summerhaven were evacuated during the fire. There were no fatalities and no buildings were destroyed in the fire. Record heat and drought contributed to the fire’s tenacity. This was the largest wildfire recorded in Pima County to date.

Bomber Crash (outside Tucson at the time–now in Tucson)

Two B-24 bombers crashed just outside Tucson on November 30, 1944 at 7:40 a.m.  The two airplanes had a mid-air collision. Eighteen crew men died in the crash. The location of this crash was in the Pantano Wash, at a point half-way between East Broadway and East Speedway.

Boy Scouts die during a snow storm in the Santa Rita Mountains

On November 16, 1958 three Boy Scouts died in a freak snowstorm in the Santa Rita Mountains. See also Boy Scouts—Died in Snowfall in Santa Rita Mountains.

Bullock Fire

The fire was first reported on May 12, 2002.   Mount Lemmon was evacuated on May 26. The fire was contained on June 10, 2002. Rehabilitation work began on June 6, 2002.  Acreage burned 30,563.

Fire and explosion at the Tucson Newspapers Inc. newspaper plant

There was a fire and explosion at the Tucson Newspapers Inc. main plant on July 22, 1982.  The exact cause of the explosion was not known, but may have been caused by water from storms seeping into the electrical system. This explosion injured 11 people, one person died.

Fire and explosion at Supreme Cleaners

Occurred March 29, 1963.  Six people died. Thirty-two people were injured in the blast.  (The address of Supreme Cleaners was 2332 N. Stone. Near Grant Road and Stone Avenue.) The explosion was reportedly caused by a natural gas leak. One of the cleaner’s owners, Harris Salonic, turned off a light switch when leaving the basement of the plant and this ignited gas fumes.  Harris Salonic was one of the people killed in the explosion.

Flood of 1983

October 1-2, 1983 major flooding occurred in Tucson and surrounding communities after several days of heavy rain.  At least 13 people died in this flood and hundreds of people were injured. Several homes, businesses and bridges were damaged.  The towns of Clifton, Duncan, Winkelman, Hayden and Marana were almost entirely submerged.  Over 10,000 people had to leave their homes.  The total damage across Arizona for this flood was $500 million in 1983 dollars.

Hidden Valley Inn Fire

On August 7, 1995 the Hidden Valley Inn was totally destroyed by fire, but there was no loss of life. (The address of Hidden Valley Inn was 4825 N. Sabino Canyon Road. Restaurant closed in 2006.) The Hidden Valley Inn was known for having a collection of wood carvings by Jean Le Roy. The wood carvings were a miniature circus, an old western village, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and 25 Indian settlements. All of these wood carvings were removed from the restaurant before the fire.

Jet Crash by the UA near Mansfield Junior High

A United States Air Force A-7 Corsair II crashed on October 26, 1978. Two people were killed. (The address of Mansfield Junior High is 1300 E. 6th Street.)

Jet Crash into Food Giant supermarket

An Air Force Jet crashed into a supermarket on December 18, 1967.  Four people died.  (The address of the Food Giant Supermarket was 1830 S. Alvernon.  Near east 29th Street and South Alvernon.)

Old Tucson Studios Fire

Occurred April 24, 1995. Even though 40% of Old Tucson, opens a new window was destroyed, there were no fatalities.  (The address of Old Tucson Studios is 201 S. Kinney Road.)

Pioneer Hotel Fire

On December 20, 1970 a fire broke out in the Pioneer Hotel killing 29 people, including hotel owner Harold Steinfeld and his wife Margaret. Louis C. Taylor (16 at the time of the fire) was sentenced to life in prison on 28 counts of murder.  (The address of the Pioneer Hotel was 100 N. Stone-- the building is still standing-- you will find references works that say it is torn down--but it is an office building now.) For more information check "Pioneer Hotel Fire" in this file.

Sawmill Fire

During a gender reveal party on April 23, 2017, a target containing tannerite and blue powder was destroyed in the Coronado National Forest. The tannerite exploded and started a fire in the surrounding grass. The fire burned 46,991 acres and finally ended on May 1, 2017. No fatalities were reported and no buildings were destroyed.


"Army bomber crash in air, crews killed." Tucson Citizen. November 30, 1944. Page 1

"Delehanty is a 47-year Star, TNI employee."  Arizona Daily Star. July 23, 1982. Page A3.

"Eighteen dead as D-M planes collide in air.” Arizona Daily Star.  December 1, 1944. Page 1

"Explosion rocks Star's plant, leaving 7 injured, and 4 critically." Arizona Daily Star. July 23, 1982. Page 1.

"Hidden Valley carvings spared." Tucson Citizen. August 9, 1995. Page C1.

"No decision on Hidden Valley Inn fate, opens a new window." Arizona Daily Star. August 9, 1995. Page B1. (NewsBank online resource.)

"Tropical Storms have hit desert, opens a new window."  Arizona Daily Star.  September 18, 2008. Page B1. (NewsBank online resource.)

"Tucson Time Capsule: Circus in Miniature, circa 1978." Arizona Daily Star. June 2, 2008. Page B5.

Find the information you need by calling the library's Infoline at 520-791-4010 or by sending your question to Ask a Librarian.