The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

1964 fire featured exploding paint cans


October 16, 2019

Flames shot an estimated 100 feet in the air.

Smoke could be seen 25 miles away.

Firefighters had to watch out for falling power lines and for paint cans that “exploded and rocketed out of the main building,” the Clovis News-Journal reported.

The worst fire in eastern New Mexico’s history is debatable, but the blaze that destroyed Eastern New Mexico Builders Supply 55 years ago this week has to be among the contenders.

It began about 3 p.m. on Oct. 15, 1964, at 2410 Prince, where Burns Do It Center stands today. A “trash fire” on the west side of the building “got out of control” and spread to nearby piles of sawdust and lumber, according to CN-J.

Owner Pat Petty said the lumber in the yard occupied close to 4,000 square feet. Almost all of it was destroyed.

Firefighters arrived on the scene minutes after they were called, but they had little to fight with. Two fire hydrants recently installed in the area had not yet been connected to water lines. Water had to be pumped from three and four blocks away.

A new $60,000 snorkel truck wasn’t much help either. Firefighters had trouble raising the apparatus above the raging flames.

Electric and telephone service was knocked out across the area. Officials said phones were out as far away as Grady and Ranchvale because of the damage to Clovis lines.

Initial estimates put damages near $350,000, but a later report said the business was only out $200,000. That’s about $1.6 million in today’s dollars.

The newspaper reported “devastation (was) wreaked” on the east, north and west sides of the lumber yard.

Fire Chief Joe Maddox said it was one of the worst fires in the city’s history.

The “worst fire” in the history of eastern New Mexico is plenty debatable.

Some would say it happened Nov. 30, 2005, when munitions training during a 40-mph windstorm at Cannon Air Force Base resulted in 27,000 scorched acres and dozens of dead animals. Cannon paid almost $1.3 million in property damage to area landowners.

Others might argue the July 1, 1908, fire in downtown Portales was the worst. It wiped out half the young city’s business district, causing $30,000 in damages. Today’s equivalent would be about $800,000 in damages.

Clovis also experienced a devastating downtown fire in 1908. That one destroyed every building in the 200 block of Main Street except for the Hogpen Bar. The city required all Main Street buildings be made of brick after that.

The anniversary of the Builders Supply fire makes this a good day to remember them all.

David Stevens writes about regional history for Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at:

[email protected]


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