Investigators Blame Concrete Collapse for Downtown Fire

By: KAKE News Email
By: KAKE News Email

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12:45 p.m., July 9th

A fire that destroyed a historic section of downtown Anthony was likely caused by a hole in the gas line, fire investigators said.

An investigator with the Kansas State Fire Marshal's Office said concrete and dirt had settled in the alley behind the businesses. A trash truck traveling throught the alley had stopped to pick up trash, causing the concrete underneath to collapse.

Authorities said they believe the concrete pieces caused a three to four foot hole in the gas line. But it is unclear what would have sparked the explosion.

Investigators said they have ruled out that a gas leak may have existed before the ground collapse. A gas company had been called to check on reports of natural gas odor June 29th, but a cause for the smell was never found.

5:45 p.m., July 8th

The Harper County Sheriff told KAKE News that the fire in downtown Anthony was brought under control just before 5 p.m., but now thick, black smoke can be seen billowing out of a building again.

Firefighters say they are dealing with constant flare-ups inside the businesses. Gas service to the area has been shut off and a two block area of Main Street in Anthony remains evacuated.
July 8, 2009

The Harper County Sheriff tells KAKE's Cayle Thompson a fire in downtown Anthony is under control.

The incident is just north of Main Street in Anthony. Main Street has been evacuated from Jennings to Kansas Street.

Emergency crews tell us a gas line ruptured, sparking a fire in several buildings. The cause of the accident is not yet known, but several eyewitnesses tell KAKE News they believe there may have been a gas leak near a trash truck. Something on the truck caused a spark, which ignited the nearby gas and caused the explosion.

City secretary Tiffany Nulick said it appeared a former appliance store and another downtown building had sustained the most damage. Chamber of Commerce Director Gwen Warner said another building
also appeared to have sustained damage.

KAKE News has confirmed that 20 year-old Jason Stitt was seriously injured in the explosion. His family tells us that Jason was walking behind the trash truck as the driver was moving slowly forward. The explosion rocked the trash truck and lurched it forward slightly. The driver of the truck, Mike Wyatt, got out and went to the back of the truck where he found Stitt lying face down in a large crater in the ground.

The family tells us that Stitt appears to have a broken pelvis and several broken ribs, but that he was not burned by the fire.

Water, ice, and gatorade is needed. Anyone wanting to donate can take items to the Bank Of Kansas drive thru. Anyone wanting to donate relief food can go to the basement of the Harper County Health Dept.

Fire crews from Anthony, Harper, Attica, Kiowa, Norwich, Argonia and Manchester, OK, are on the scene dealing with the fire that was caused by the explosion. Several buildings have been seriously damaged and a fire is still burning, but the Harper County Sheriff tells KAKE's Cayle Thompson that the fire is under control.

Stay with KAKE News and for the latest details on this developing story.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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