As the clock ticked down Sunday, the morning clouds disappeared, as if they were in on the months-long planning that went into the destruction of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s final natural-gas holding silo.
Then, as if someone were turning on Christmas lights, the rings of the cylinder blinked with 420 explosive charges.
It took a moment for the noise — like thunder after lightning pierces the sky – for the rat-ta-tat-tat to reach the observers on the roof of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute across the Jones Falls Expressway.
And in less than the 7 seconds predicted, the 258-foot-tall hollow steel structure was reduced to a pile of rubble, about 25 feet high.
Precisely at 7:30 a.m., there were puffs of smoke and dust as the copper pins in the explosive charges cut the steel more cleanly — and incredibly faster — than a blowtorch.
"Everything went very well," said James Santoro of Controlled Demolition Inc. "It happened just the way we planned it."
With that, the 79-year-old Melvale Gas Holder, a landmark beside the Jones Falls Expressway near Cold Spring Lane, joined five other BGE holding towers in the land of things no longer needed.
Not used since 1997, it had been where the company used to store natural gas for pumping during peak demand times — morning showers and evening dinner. The internal roof rose or lowered, depending on demand.
"It required upkeep and maintenance," said BGE spokesman Rob Gould. "We thought it was a better use of our customers' dollars to bring it down."
It is unclear what the 26-acre site will be used for in the future, but a city biking and hiking trail now passes through the property.
And, if Brooks Gearhart Jr. is to be believed, Santa will have to find someplace else to store the toys for Baltimore's children.
A Poly junior, he was in position to film the implosion from the school roof with Max Yuhas, a freshman, and science teacher Robert Marinelli — before city police chased all the spectators off the impromptu observation deck. It was to have been the ultimate science lesson.
"When I was growing up, my parents said that's where Santa kept the toys," Gearhart said.
"It will be weird not to see it coming to school," said Yuhas.
Becky Renick, of Roland Park, was there, too, with a neighbor and a combined five kids under the age of 8. Each wore large, colorful, foam earplugs that made the children look like they had handles.
"You don't often get to see something get blown up," she said, before police insisted all the civilians leave the roof.
Blown down, actually. The charges first cut a wedge in the side of the towering tank like an ax going into a tree. It tipped away from the Jones Falls and the Metro light rail tracks and then collapsed straight down in an accordion-like way. BGE representatives had gone door-to-door in nearby neighborhoods to alert residents to the Sunday event.
After the implosion, police inspected the roadways and the train tracks for debris and re-opened both a little after 8 a.m. Police were also on hand to chase spectators from the 41st Street Bridge. There was a 1,500-foot safety zone around the site, and 11 seismographs in the area to measure the vibration and noise. Low clouds would have made both more significant.
Potts & Callahan will move in now with giant shears – like something out of a Transformers movie – and cut up the steel, which will be recycled.
"It was an industrial site, and so it wasn't as dramatic to watch," said Santoro. CDI, based in Phoenix, Md., has brought down casinos in Las Vegas, the Seattle Kingdome and a portion of the federal building in Oklahoma City that remained after the bombing there.
"The best thing about this project? We were home to do it," he said. CDI's share of the project began four weeks ago, after some initial environmental work by Potts & Callahan. It took four days to load the charges, and they were finished last Wednesday.
The morning had a more sentimental meaning for Blake Gardner, who retires this week as BGE's director of gas operations. His first week with the company, 40 years ago now, was spent inspecting the storage facility he'd just seen destroyed.
"It was fantastic," said Gardner, who leaves now to hike the Pacific Coast Trail. "It was a neat way to end my career. Bookends in time."
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