In Independence, Mo., a fire and heavy smoke barred more than 100 workers from entering their businesses Monday at the Space Center Distribution complex, an underground warehouse and office space at Missouri 291 and Salisbury Road, also commonly known as GeoSpace.

Firefighters contended with communication challenges at the scene. The Independence Fire Department 's radio system does not penetrate the underground structure.

"Once we are inside, our radios cannot reach out. So, we cannot call for extra equipment or personnel, or communicate what is happening inside," said Assistant Chief Sandy Schiess.

Firefighters were stationed at strategic points in the complex to relay messages outside.

The fire erupted at Burd & Fletcher, a commercial printing company, when a commercial press machine caught fire. Independence Fire Department officials said the exact cause is under investigation.

"We believe it was a build up of heat in the machinery but we are not sure at this time," said Assistant Fire Chief George Powers.

The call came in about 10:25 a.m. It took firefighters about 15 minutes to locate Burd & Fletcher in the northern portion of the underground complex. The flames were confined to the machinery, Powers said. The fire was controlled within 15 minutes.

Heavy smoke lingering in the underground caverns prevented many workers from returning to the complex.

Burd & Fletcher evacuated about 100 employees before the fire trucks arrived.

"I just saw a bunch of smoke filling the building. We evacuated immediately," said Jim Farnsworth, a supervisor in the Burd & Fletcher warehouse.

The rest of the complex was not forced to evacuate, but workers who left were not allowed back in. Access was returned to the majority of the facility by 12:25 p.m. No one was injured.

John Young Jr., chief executive officer at Burd & Fletcher, said the fire started in a drying mechanism on a commercial press.

"There was very little damage to the machinery, mostly in the duct work. It was not a very serious fire, thankfully," Young said.

Burd & Fletcher employees were back at work by 1 p.m., Young said. He did not have a damage estimate for the affected press.

(To reach Darla McFarland, e-mail darlam@examiner.net or call 816-350-6321.)

(Copyright 2002, The Examiner, Independence, Mo. Republished with permission.)