Fire Officials: Blaze At Former WIBW Building Intentionally Set

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Topeka Fire officials said late Thursday that the fire that engulfed the former WIBW-TV and Radio building was intentionally set.

The fire was discovered just before 5 pm at the building. Fire crews expected to remain on the scene through the night to ensure all hotspots were extinguished.

At the height of the fire, flames could be seen shooting from the roof of the structure and thick black smoke could be seen from miles away. Topeka fire officials said, because the fire was so extensive and it was a vacant building, they were largely in defensive mode, keeping the flames from spreading to the grassy areas surrounding the building. One challenge was water - they had to truck it in because no hydrants were near enough to hook on.

Fire investigators say the fire started in the attic or exterior roof of the building. They determined it was incendiary in nature.

Four engine companies, one truck company and two aerial apparatus from Topeka Fire responded to the fire. Mission Township Fire Dept. also assisted by sending an engine company and a brush truck.

One firefighter was injured and taken to the hospital with injuries not considered life threatening.

The Salvation Army provided coffee and snacks for the crews working at the scene.

WIBW-TV aired its first broadcast from the building when it went on the air Nov. 15, 1953. WIBW-AM joined them there a few years later, when the TV and radio operations were purchased by Stauffer Communications.

Despite an ownership change in the mid-1990s that split the television and radio operations, both entities continued working from the building until 2001, when WIBW-AM-FM moved to a new building on Huntoon Hill and WIBW-TV built a new studio down the hill from the Menninger location, at Commerce Place.

CoreFirst Bank and Trust purchased the former WIBW property but was not currently doing anything at the location. Since the structure was due to be torn, fire officials say no monetary value was associated with it.

The investigation into the fire continues. Anyone with information should contact Topeka Crime Stoppers at 785-234-0007.

The WIBW-TV studios in an old picture