SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. (WLS) —
A firefighter was killed and at least a dozen other people were hurt Tuesday night in a fiery explosion that leveled buildings and forced evacuations in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is expressing his condolences to the family of a firefighter killed in a massive natural gas explosion.
Walker toured the rubble Wednesday evening and spoke at a news conference in a city park. He offered his love and prayers to Sun Prairie Fire Department Capt. Cory Barr’s family and children. He also praised firefighters and police who evacuated dozens of people from the area before the explosion.
People who live in the town of Sun Prairie, a suburb of Madison, said they could smell the gas and see the smoke for miles. Some residents said they felt the blast inside their homes.
“We were at home. My husband was grilling dinner. We were in the kitchen. We felt this boom and I thought something landed on our roof, it was so loud. Our house shook,” said Kim Sergenian, who lives in Sun Prairie.
Firefighters were called to the scene of a gas leak in downtown Sun Prairie around 6:20 p.m. Tuesday. WE Energies Spokeswoman Amy Jahns said workers for a private contractor struck a 4-inch natural gas main. Jahns did not name the contractor.
The gas leak caused an explosion around 7 p.m. and produced a massive fire that leveled half a city block
Mahlon Mitchell, president of the state firefighters union, identified the firefighter who died as Sun Prairie Fire Department Capt. Cory Barr, who also owned a tavern that caught fire in the blast called the Barr House. The 34-year-old had been with the department at least 10 years, Sun Prairie Fire Chief Christopher Garrison said. He leaves behind a wife and twin 3-year-old girls. He also worked as a real estate agent.
A memorial procession is planned for Wednesday evening at 8:30 p.m.
“The Sun Prairie Fire Department is strong. We will keep on building from this. We are hurt, but we will come back,” Garrison said.
Sun Prairie Police Lieutenant Kevin Konopacki said Barr’s work, and the work of countless other firefighters, helped save the lives of many Sun Prairie residents.
“Thank God that our firefighters and those who responded were able to get the majority of people evacuated before the explosion. It could have been a lot worse,” Konopacki said.
Five other firefighters, a police officer and at least six civilians were injured in the blast and sent to the hospital. One of those firefighters was critically hurt. The civilians, who suffered minor injuries, were treated and released.
Police set up a half-mile perimeter around the site. They said it will likely remain in place for much of the day, before residents get the “all-clear” to return to their homes.
“We understand that people have been displaced. As soon as we can get this secure and get people to their homes, we’re going to do that,” Konopacki said.
The Red Cross assisted evacuees at a shelter set up at Sun Prairie High School.
About 32,800 people live in Sun Prairie. Police said as of 11 a.m. Wednesday, no one had been reported missing.
Sun Prairie police Lt. Kevin Konopacki said authorities are in the midst of an in-depth investigation to determine how the line was ruptured and what sparked the explosion.
Sun Prairie is about 15 miles (24 kilometers) east of the state Capitol building in Madison.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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