TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — A stolen construction tractor crashed into a home, where it started a fire and then broke free and smashed into a second home before firefighters could shut it down.
There were no reported injuries from the incident in Tucson early Tuesday morning, but officials declared both homes total losses.
“It looks like a tornado went through,’ Fire Capt. Barrett Baker said.
A woman called 911 shortly before 1 a.m. to report that the tractor had crashed through two walls and into in her home and started a fire, said Baker, a Fire Department spokesman who was among the responders.
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Firefighters didn’t know what to expect when they arrived to find the tractor with its engine still running inside the first home and black smoke coming from the home, Baker said.
There was no indication initially that anybody was on the tractor when it crashed through a block wall and then entered the homes, said Sgt. Kimberly Bay, a Police Department spokeswoman. “At this point, it looks like it was put in gear and left to go,” Bay said.
Firefighters fought the fire and evacuated neighboring homes. But they were unable to safely reach the tractor to shut it down before it pivoted sideways, crashed out of the first home and plowed into the one next door.
Anna Schreiber lived in that second home with her boyfriend and adult son. “I thought I was dreaming at first. I didn’t believe it,” Schreiber said.
Schreiber said her son and boyfriend first thought the loud noise from the tractor next door was a broken air conditioner in their three-bedroom rental house. The family soon realized what was happening and evacuated. They were at a safe distance outside when the tractor moved toward their home.
Baker said the machine then stopped, and a firefighter was able to reach an access panel and shut off the tractor’s fuel supply. The tractor was still wedged into the second home early Tuesday afternoon.
Both homes were left in shambles and have been condemned. “The homes are what was taking the damage, not the tractor,” Baker said.
The tractor was stolen from a construction site about a quarter-mile away, Bay said. She said she didn’t have details on how it was stolen.
Police auto-theft detectives were checking for witnesses and surveillance video, but they hadn’t identified any suspects, Bay said.
The machine moved on tracks and had a big mast-like boom, possibly for lifting and lowering pipes, Baker said.
The Red Cross placed Schreiber and her family in a motel for at least a couple of days, but she is unsure where they’ll go next. Schreiber said she used to have renter’s insurance but forgot to renew it when it expired.
“You don’t think anything is going to happen,” she said. “I’m still trying to absorb all of it.”
Davenport reported from Phoenix. Galvan reported from Tucson.