SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. - One firefighter was killed and several other people, including police officers, firefighters and civilians were injured in an explosion in Sun Prairie Tuesday night.
The explosion happened at 7:05 p.m. at the intersection of Main and Bristol streets after police said they were called to the area around 6:20 p.m. for complaints of the smell of gas.
Construction was happening near the evacuation site, according to police. Officials with WE Energies said they were made aware of an independent contractor hitting a natural gas main in downtown Sun Prairie.
A half-mile evacuation area is still in place Wednesday morning with more than 100 people displaced from their homes, officials said. After the gas main was initially turned off at 9:30 p.m., WE Energies crews worked overnight in the area. There is no timeline on when the 500 customers currently without natural gas will have it restored.
In addition to the firefighter who was killed, one police officer was taken to the hospital and released; seven civilians were taken to the hospital and released; and six firefighters were taken to the hospital, four with minor injuries and one who is in stable condition.
Family and friends have identified the firefighter that was killed as Cory Barr.
Barr House Glass Nickel Pizza, the Watertower Chop House and a residence nearby suffered significant fire damage. Police said there is a lot of glass at the scene.
Patrick DePula is the owner and chef at Salvatore Tomato Pies and like many people in Sun Prairie, he says he didn’t sleep much last night. But unlike most people here, he witnessed the explosion firsthand.
Last night, during one of the busiest dinner rushes he’s ever seen, Patrick noticed the fire department outside his restaurant, blocking the street, he also smelled gas inside his restaurant. He told the fire department that and was told to evacuate his restaurant. He likened what was happened to a fire drill, and that’s when he saw a building explode and a fireball launch into the sky.
“It’s one of those moments where you take stock and it’s like whatever damage happened to the building, whatever happened to the vehicles or personal property, it’s so unbelievably unimportant compared to the loss of life that could happened,” DePula said.
DePula said he’s glad his crew and customers are safe. He doesn’t know how his building is, but honestly, he said he doesn’t care.
DePula emphasized that Sun Prairie’s Fire Department is a volunteer fire department. He said there are no braver people on the planet.
“We could smell gas really strong, and we tried to help firefighters keep people away,” DePula, owner said.
Those who have been evacuated have been gathering at Sun Prairie High School. A family assistance center has been opened at the Sun Prairie High School gym, Sun Prairie police said.
The following road closures will be in place Wednesday in Sun Prairie:
- Main Street (Hwy 19) from County Road N to Flint Street
- Linnerud Drive from Main Street to Craftsman Way
- Bristol Street from Windsor Street to Linnerud Drive
- Columbus Street from Oak Street to Main Street
- Numerous other secondary streets in the downtown area around the scene are also closed
The Sun Prairie YMCA is offering assistance to those impacted by the explosion as well, including showers and daycare.
All summer school classes have been canceled in Sun Prairie because of the explosion. Classes will resume Thursday.
Police officers from Marshall, Dane County Sheriff’s Office, Madison, DeForest, Waunakee, Cottage Grove, Maple Bluff, McFarland, Monona and the State Patrol responded to the scene to help. Fire and EMS crews from Cottage Grove, Columbus, DeForest, Dane, Deerfield, Fitchburg, Madison, McFarland, Middleton, Monona, Marshall, Stoughton, Waterloo and Waunakee also responded.
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