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Onlooker seriously injured as power plant demolition goes awry

August 03, 2013|By Joel Rubin
  • One tower falls as explosives that will bring down the other are detonated at an old Pacific Power and Electric power plant in Bakersfield. A man watching the demolition from 1,000 feet away was struck by flying debris and lost a leg, and others suffered injuries as well.
One tower falls as explosives that will bring down the other are detonated… (Autumn Parry / Associated…)

The demolition of an old power plant in Bakersfield on Saturday morning went badly off script when a man was seriously injured by large shards of flying debris, police said.

At 6 a.m. a crowd of several thousand people had gathered to watch the planned implosion of a shuttered, steam-generated power plant owned by Pacific Gas and Electric, according to police and Denny Boyles, a spokesman for the power company.

The curious onlookers all stood behind a 1,000-foot safety perimeter put up by the demolition company that Pacific Gas and Electric had hired for the job, Boyles said.

When all was ready, explosive charges placed at critical points in the building were detonated in a predetermined pattern meant to bring it down on itself in a heap of rubble and a cloud of dust. 

In the moments after the structure fell, a police officer patrolling the event heard a man screaming nearby. Pieces of metal ejected from inside the plant during the implosion had struck a 43-year-old man, severing part of one leg, and caused serious injuries to another spectator, Bakersfield Police Lt. Scott Tunnicliffe said.

At least two other people in the area suffered minor lacerations from metal pieces. Vehicles parked nearby were hit as well.

The seriously injured man was transported to a nearby hospital and later flown by helicopter to Fresno for further treatment, according to Tunnicliffe, who added that the man's condition was not known.

Police recovered one piece of metal that measured about a half-foot long and weighed a few pounds, Tunnicliffe said. The fragment that injured the man had been taken by a spectator, he said.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with this man and the others who received injuries," Boyles said. "As a company we are deeply saddened."

After previously tearing down other parts of the plant that had been out of use since 1986, the decison was made to implode two remaining steel boiler towers that stood 140-feet-tall, Boyles said.

Pacific Gas hired Cleveland Wrecking Co. to handle the demolition, according to Boyles, and that company, in turn, brought on an explosives company and another subcontractor to assist with the job, Boyles said.

Boyles did not know how the 1,000-foot safety perimeter had been determined.

The site, which many in the community considered an eyesore, Boyles said, was being cleared for possible sale and development, he added.

Tunnicliffe said police were not investigating the incident as a crime. Boyles said the power company was working with the demolition companies to track down the cause of the accident.

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Twitter: @joelrubin

joel.rubin@latimes.com

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