Anoka County History: Fire in 1989 at Tonson operation

One day in the late 1970’s, while I was out for a run along Bunker Lake Boulevard west of Jefferson Street, I saw an unexpected thing.

Two cars conducted an impromptu drag race. They sped west, one in each lane, and disappeared into the chicane near Bunker Hills Park.

I didn’t hear any screeching brakes, clattering metal, or shattering glass, so the two must have finished their business and tucked one behind the other into the correct lane without colliding head-on into eastbound traffic.

It was a foolhardy act even then, but 35 years ago, when Bunker Lake was a lightly traveled two-lane country road, they had a shot at getting away with it.

There were no stoplights at Hanson Boulevard and no housing developments across from Bunker Lake Park, and the stretch of road from Ham Lake into Andover housed pig farms, auto junkyards, and other less-than-upscale operations.

One of these was the Tonson Inc. Tire Recycling Yard, southwest of Bunker Lake and Hanson near the present-day site of the Andover Station retail and residential area.

By February 1989, Tonson, a shredding operation, had accumulated a quarter of a million tires on 15 acres, and Anoka County and Andover officials had been trying for years to shut the whole thing down.

There had been a fire the previous summer, July 1988, which destroyed Tonson’s tire shredders and caused a million dollars worth of damage.

The EPA and the Minnesota PCA were anxious to get in and get things cleaned up.

Beside the tires, there were barrels of unidentified noxious substances, and the site was on the list for a Superfund clean-up.

A hearing was scheduled for Feb. 9,and officials hoped to get a court order that would allow them to take possession and get the process rolling.

Two days before the scheduled hearing, on a Tuesday evening around 8 p.m., a fire broke out on the site. In sub-zero temperatures and 30 mph winds, 60 firefighters from four departments were called in.

Given the magnitude of the blaze and the presence on the toxic barrels, there was no way to actually extinguish the fire, so front-end loaders were used to clear firebreaks and the fire was allowed to burn itself out.  Smoke and stench hung over the area for a week.

Today, you can see a movie, go bowling, or enjoy dinner and drinks within a stone’s throw of the 1989 inferno.

Bunker Lake and Hanson boulevards, once a junction of two-lane roads controlled only by stop signs, is a major intersection.

A second phase of Andover Station, on the north side of Bunker Lake Boulevard, is in the works.

Anyone who took a mind to drag race wouldn’t find enough unoccupied highway to get up to speed.

The Tonson fire isn’t the only milestone in the transformation of Bunker Lake Boulevard from a rural byway to a suburban thoroughfare, but in retrospect it seems like something that had to happen before modernization could come to that section of Andover.

Editor’s note: John Evans is a volunteer with the Anoka County Historical Society.

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