Six injured in industrial fire after explosion in southeast Wisconsin; all employees accounted for

EAGLE, Wis. — Six people were injured due to a large industrial fire in Eagle after an explosion rocked the small Waukesha County community Thursday morning.

Officials with the Kettle Moraine Fire District said the explosion was at Summerset Marine Construction, a company that makes piers and docks. According to the business’s website, the facility in Eagle is 24,000 square feet and includes a showroom, office, factory, and warehouse. Sixty-one employees, most of whom work out in the field, are based out of the Eagle facility.

During a Thursday morning press conference, fire officials confirmed six people — three employees and three firefighters — were injured. One employee was seriously injured and transported to a local hospital, and one firefighter was transported but is in good condition. The four others were treated at the scene.

A fire official at the scene said firefighters’ injuries were related to heat exhaustion while employees’ injuries were fire-related.

It is not yet known what caused the explosion, but officials said the blast damaged the building’s structural integrity. The ATF is investigating the cause of the blast, but officials said that should not be a cause for concern or a sign that something suspicious happened.

“That is something we see quite a bit in our county just because of where they happen to reside and the fact that our fire agencies actually house their apparatus, so that shouldn’t be something that should concern the community, whatsoever,” Western Lakes Fire Department Assistant Chief Matthew Haerter said Thursday afternoon.

Struggles With Response

When crews first arrived at the scene shortly after 7:45 a.m., they found an active fire at the facility and immediately ordered all occupants to leave the building. Twenty-four employees were inside at the time and all have since been accounted for, according to Waukesha County Sheriff Eric Severson.

Haerter said a lack of fire hydrants in the area made fighting the fire more difficult. Water was being moved into the area by tankers with help from units as far away as Kenosha, Milwaukee, and Washington counties. Crews also relied on water from Eagle’s municipal system and two area lakes.

Officials said 30 tankers and 100 personnel members were working to bring water to the scene. As of 1:30 p.m., about 400,000 gallons of water had been used to fight the fire. Each water tender holds about 3,000 gallons of water, with many of them going to refill their water supply 20 times, Haerter said.

Haerter added that a fuel station in the facility has made the fire more difficult to knock down. Multiple explosions occurred after the first, and more could still happen, according to Haerter.

Firefighters on the scene let combustible materials below the building’s collapsed roof burn out before they begin attacking the fire with water again.

“This has been a defensive fire the entire fire attack, which means that the firefighters were never able to go inside of the building,” Haerter said. “There was significant structural collapse prior to firefighter arrival.”

Authorities said the fire likely wouldn’t be under control until roughly 8 p.m.

“It’s a metal building that, because of the integrity that’s been lost regarding the structure, excavators have arrived on location and we’re going to start using those to be able to get into the structure and deliver water more effectively,” Haerter said.

Community Impact

The building is about a quarter-mile from an elementary school. Officials there told TMJ4 that they felt the school building shake at around 7:50 a.m. Students and staff were safely relocated to Palmyra High School and are expected to be able to return to school ton Friday.

There was no active danger to the community and no need for hazmat response, but officials implemented a one-mile shelter-in-place order due to excessive smoke in the area. Authorities said people in that radius should keep their windows closed and avoid using air conditioners.

Larry Chapman, the owner of Summerset Marine, said during the press conference he’s grateful for firefighters’ help in keeping his employees safe. Champman was on his way to the facility when he first heard of the explosion.

“We’re not sure what happened,” he said. “We’re going to get to the bottom of it and we’re going to rectify what the situation was and move forward.”

Chapman said that his company recently conducted safety training for incidents like this, adding that he wasn’t sure when the last fire inspection was. He also said the building is likely a total loss.

Regardless of whether his company rebuilds at the same site or considers a different location, Chapman said his employees will be looked after.

“We’re going to get through this,” Chapman said. “It’s a tough time for our company but we will buckle down and persevere and make sure that people can provide for their families and our customers are taken care of.”

WATCH MORE: Aerial views of site show large plumes of smoke