A grainy video and lots of facebook friends helped fire investigators track down two teenage boys who started a fire behind Nello’s Pizza in Ahwatukee Foothills.
The boys, both 13 years old, apparently told their parents they were spending the night at each other’s house on June 6, said Fire Investigator Capt. Steve Franklin. Instead the two boys spent the night hanging out in a park. Around 3:30 a.m. they made their way over to the alley behind Nello’s Pizza.
“They decided to stop behind Nello’s pizza and pry open the fire wood that they use for the pizza ovens,” said Franklin. “They tried setting the wood on fire. It was stocked full of oak wood. They probably tried ten times and they couldn’t get it started. Finally they realized they can’t just put a lighter flame on a big block of wood.”
Franklin said video from Nello’s shows the two boys pry open a storage bin and start a smaller fire inside a bucket. Once that fire was lit they threw the contents of the bucket on top of the pile of wood and walked away.
“They worked at it,” said Franklin. “It wasn’t just like they tried to flick a lighter or a match and if it doesn’t work I’ll keep walking. They were there for 15 minutes or more trying to get the fire bigger.”
Franklin said the fire was burning for about 20 minutes before someone driving past noticed smoke and reported it.
There was no damage to the building but Franklin says it could have been much worse. The fire was close to a dumpster, a large tree, the building, and only a few feet away from a 55 gallon barrel of vegetable oil.
“From a firefighter’s stand point they would have looked at that barrel of oil and though it was probably just a trash can with trash in it,” said Franklin. “If they were to approach that barrel of oil and not have their face mask on and start spraying water in the barrel it would have exploded up into their face.”
No investigator was called that night but Franklin says he got a call from the owner of Nello’s soon after who said they had video of arson being committed. Franklin took photos from the video and began asking around. He said he got a tip from a local retired cop that one of the boys looked like a kid that goes to his daughter’s school and was apparently very well known there. It was enough for Franklin to track him down.
Franklin said the boy confessed without issue and led him to his friend’s house. Both boys were prosecuted as juveniles for arson of property with $2,000 in damage. Franklin does not believe they will be tried as adults.
“The moral of the story is parents, do you really know what your kids are up to and where they’re at,” said Franklin. “I’ve had about 10 or 12 arson arrests of juveniles ages 13 to 17 in the last month. Not one parent had a clue that their kids were running around at three in the morning.”
Franklin said both teens involved in this case said they had been playing with fireworks in the last few months. He believes that sparked an interest to try something bigger.
“That’s the biggest problem with fireworks,” said Franklin. “They soon realized that it wasn’t that big of a deal. The little fireworks that they were doing were cool but they wanted something bigger and better so they kept graduating up. That resulted in this fire. That’s why we have to take these fires seriously. Who knows what they would have done next if they had gotten away with it.”