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‘This won’t be the end of Tacos El Tule’ owner says as arson claims local food truck

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The Bellingham Fire Department provides emergency and non-emergency services to Bellingham, Marietta and the Lummi Reservation.
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The Bellingham Fire Department provides emergency and non-emergency services to Bellingham, Marietta and the Lummi Reservation.

Jose Robles said he was abruptly awakened at 2:30 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 16, by his wife telling him the Bellingham Fire Department was at their door. Their taco truck, Tacos El Tule, was on fire.

Robles said it was sheer confusion and commotion when he went outside, and for about 30 seconds, he thought he was just having a nightmare. He said there were no flames, only smoke, when he made it outside. Because he didn’t have his contacts in, Robles couldn’t see the extent of the damage immediately.

“We lost everything,” Robles told The Bellingham Herald. “There’s nothing salvageable in this unit.”

Bellingham Fire Department investigators determined the cause of the fire was arson. Robles said Bellingham police asked him if he had any enemies. Robles said he didn’t, and that he’s always been deeply involved with the community.

“Somebody intentionally set fire to my livelihood. It not only feels like you’re being violated, but you just feel like this is an attack on you and your family and your well-being. It’s unfortunate and makes you feel very uncomfortable,” Robles said.

The Tacos El Tule food truck was the second taco truck to burn last week. Less than three days earlier, the La Gloria Market taco truck burned in the 4800 block of Meridian after a kitchen fire.

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On Aug. 16, the Tacos El Tule food truck was destroyed by arson. The taco truck was normally parked in the 3500 block of Meridian Street. Jose Robles Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

‘Start from the ground up’

Robles’ uncle has owned and operated El Rinconcito on Yew Street for almost three decades. Tacos El Tule was borne from the restaurant, and Robles’ uncle has operated their first food truck for the past six years on Flora Street near the Whatcom County Courthouse.

Robles said he got involved with Tacos El Tule around three years ago and expanded the business with the help of social media. They officially opened a second food truck on March 22, 2018, and Robles took over ownership on Sept. 1, 2018, he said.

Robles’ Tacos El Tule truck, which served authentic Mexican food, was normally parked in the 3500 block of Meridian Street. In the evenings, he would drive it to his home in the 2400 block of St. Paul Street.

“Even if we get a new unit, we’ve got to start from the ground up. It’s just frustrating,” Robles said.

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Jose Robles stands outside his taco truck, Tacos El Tule, which he has owned and operated since Sept. 1, 2018. On Aug. 16, 2019, Robles’ food truck was destroyed by arson. Nick Hanlon Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

‘This won’t hold us down’

Robles said the arson to the truck will be a hit financially for him and his family. He said he still believes they’re blessed, and said it’s nice to know there’s community support. A GoFundMe has been set up, and as of Tuesday, it had raised more than $2,500 of its $5,000 goal.

Robles said he hopes to have the taco truck up and running again sometime in the future.

“This won’t hold us down. This won’t be the end of Tacos El Tule, that I can assure you. It’s a roadblock, it’s a step back, but you can’t let something like this break you,” Robles said.

Second food truck to burn

Bellingham Fire crews responded around 6 p.m. on Aug. 13 for the report of a residential fire in the 4800 block of Meridian Street. It was determined to be in the La Gloria Market taco truck, which was parked next to a building.

Bellingham Fire Assistant Chief Jay Comfort said when crews arrived, there was an active fire inside the food truck. It was extinguished relatively quickly, but the truck was determined to be a total loss.

Petra Atreza, the owner of La Gloria Market, told The Herald that everything happened fast. She said they had the fryer hot in anticipation of dinner time, but didn’t use it right away. When they noticed it, it had already caught fire and was spreading to the rest of the truck, Atreza said, and they couldn’t control the fire with the small extinguishers they had.

This isn’t the first time a La Gloria Market food truck has burned, Atreza said. Around 2010, a different truck caught fire when an employee left a roll of paper towels too close to the burner, she said.

Atreza said she’s been having some nightmares, and is stressed, but otherwise fine.

“Thank God we’re fine. We’re hoping to get back to our customers soon. We definitely like Whatcom County. We reside here, we have a business here, and we thank you for all your support,”

Reporter Denver Pratt joined The Bellingham Herald in 2017 and covers courts and criminal and social justice. She has worked in Montana, Florida and Virginia.
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