Opinion: Southern Facilities storage tank fire was 50 years ago Sunday

Associated Press File Photo/Ramon Espinosa / Flames and smoke as are visible in a fire at the Matazanas Supertanker Base in Matazanas, Cuba, are what confronted local firefighters in a storage tank fire here 50 years ago Sunday.

Entering and leaving Mozelle Ridgeway's early-morning geometry class, we could see the flames and smoke clearly. Something north and east of Dalewood Junior High (now Middle School), but still several miles away, was on fire, and it looked devastating.

Fifty years ago Sunday (a Monday in 1972), five gasoline-filled storage tanks at Southern Facilities Inc. on Jersey Pike, began exploding around 6:30 a.m., sending blasts of fire 500 feet into the air that wouldn't be extinguished for 31 hours. Ultimately, four separate explosions occurred, the last five hours later at 11:30 a.m.

Looking back on it from this vantage point, it seemed like the fire went on for the better part of a week, but newspaper accounts say otherwise.

No smartphones with Facebook or Twitter updates were available back then, but we surely must have learned what happened some time that morning.