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The Little Chimney Stack That Refused to Be Knocked Down

The demolition of a 175-foot-tall smokestack in Washington state experiences a slight hiccup.

Sometimes demolition projects go smoothly, like the surgical takedown of a St. Louis County bridge or the instant improvement of a notorious Glasgow slum. And sometimes there are hiccups, as was the case with a surprisingly strong chimney tower in Port Angeles, Washington.

The 175-foot-tall stack jutted like a concrete redwood above the grounds of Peninsula Plywood, a former milling operation that went out of business in 2011. The city wants that land cleared for a new marine project, so on Monday it sent in a demolition crew from Wallace Technical Blasting, a company that seems fairly good at KO'ing big structures.

Workers lined the base of the 72-year-old tower with explosives to ease it into falling in a safe direction. Under the gray skies of a typical Washington afternoon, they triggered the blast and... well, just watch this:

The problem was that the calculations for placing the explosives were slightly off, causing the 1,000-ton stack to weaken in the wrong direction. The result was that the tower shuddered and bled thick torrents of smoke and then seemed to hunker down for the long haul. The whole process was filmed by The Peninsula Daily News; head on over to the paper's Vimeo page for wonderful high-def footage of the non-toppling.

Noting the long faces in the crowd gathered to watch stuff blow up, the demolition company's owner explained to the Daily News: "The spectators were probably pretty unhappy. But one of the first blasting instructors I ever had [told me], 'Remember: Blasting is not a spectator sport.'"

The next few hours saw people with cutting torches and power saws hacking away at the base of the chimney, which had a sort of Adamantium skeleton in the form of rebar. They then brought in a hydraulic jack, wedged it into the crater created by the blast and slooowly pushed until the stubborn tower finally gave up the ghost. The onlookers who waited around until after 6 p.m. got the show they were hoping for, with this massive beanstalk walloping the ground with the force of a million fists:

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.