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Explosives bring down an old radio tower.

March 5, 2003

A potentially dangerous situation ended safely this morning when demolition experts used explosives to bring down an old radio tower at Shears Division of APAC-Kansas Inc., 302 Peyton St.

The situation began at about 1:30 p.m. Monday when an APAC employee hit a set of guy wires supporting the 275-foot-tall tower.

"We're in the midst of our winter shutdown," explained Chris Yaudas, manager of marketing communications for APAC, a national paving company, which is headquartered in Atlanta.

Work during the shutdown includes getting equipment ready for the spring paving season and cleaning up the grounds, Yaudas said.

"An employee was moving some wire with an end-loader," she said, "and accidentally hit one of the guy wires."

The tower, which is triangular, is held by five guy wires attached up the length of each corner. The wires come together and are anchored in the ground.

The collision caused part of the tower to buckle.

"The Shears folks called over, and we called people out of the molding areas and shipping, which are closer to that side of the building," said Brad Kraft, president of Hopkins Manufacturing Co., Shears' neighbor to the north at 423 Peyton St.

An APAC employee also called 911, which dispatched police and fire units to the scene. Once there, Kraft said, emergency personnel evacuated the entire Hopkins building, before escorting employees back in briefly.

"We were taking them in five at a time to get their possessions and car keys," said Bill Renfro, Emporia Fire Department shift commander.

Once the area was evacuated, all emergency personnel could do was sit and wait. Peyton Street was blocked between Sixth Avenue and the railroad tracks to the south while a tower company from Topeka was called in.

Before arriving, the company talked about hooking up a winch and pulling the tower down.

"It was too unstable for the winch," Renfro said.

Two 400-foot-tall cranes were found in the Kansas City area, which operators brought down to take down the tower. Once on the scene, however, it was determined using the cranes would put too much equipment and workers at risk.

"They decided to go ahead and take it down with explosives," Renfro said.

The explosives crew put charges on the bottom of the tower, 5 feet up and at the northwest anchor point, Renfro said.

"They blasted the anchor part first, then the 5-foot section. The tower just laid down and gave up."

Most of the tower came straight down, Renfro said, but the final 60-foot section fell toward Hopkins. It knocked out a utility pole, a fence belonging to Hopkins and a chunk of concrete near the plant.

"If it would have been about 20 feet longer, we'd have been paying for a paint job to 'Hoppy,'" Renfro said.

Westar Energy, which arrived at the scene shortly after the 911 call and disconnected power lines in the area, had dropped those same lines to the ground later, so they weren't damaged when the tower came down.

This morning, however, Kraft said Westar was estimating it would be about noon before it could get a new utility pole in and power restored to Hopkins.

"We'll bring in the second shift about 3:30," he said.

On Monday, both second and third shifts were told not to report to work. This morning, first-shift office workers were told to call supervisors at noon for a status report.

In the end, an unusual situation ended safety, officials said.

"They did a very nice job in getting people out in a graceful and calm fashion," Kraft said of firefighters.

"Everybody's safe, and that's the key part," Yaudas said.