One firefighter died and several others were injured Tuesday in a gas explosion that tore through a small Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, business district, shooting up a plume of orange flames and white smoke and blowing wood and concrete debris across half a city block.
The blast, which reportedly could be felt a mile away from downtown Sun Prairie, happened around 7 p.m. Tuesday after a private contractor hit a natural gas main, officials said early Wednesday during a news conference. It killed volunteer fire captain Cory Barr, 34, who co-owned the Barr House Tavern, one of the businesses that was destroyed, CNN affiliate WISC-TV reported.
Fires were still burning but contained on Wednesday morning in at least one of five buildings, including restaurants and a home, that were heavily affected, city officials said.
Meantime, one firefighter was still hospitalized and in stable condition, said police Lt. Kevin Konopacki of Sun Prairie, a suburb of Madison. Other injuries were minor.
Some of the city’s 30,000 residents have been temporarily evacuated from their homes, Konopacki said.
‘We will come back’
At least five firefighters, a police officer and six others were hurt in the explosion, which happened about 45 minutes after first responders were alerted to the smell of gas around a main line operated by We Energies, a private operator, Konopacki said.
“The incident came in as a gas leak, and that’s what we were responding to,” Sun Prairie Fire Assistant Chief Bill Sullivan said. “The fire itself is a result of the explosion.”
Officials set a half-mile perimeter around the scene as fire crews controlled the area. After it’s deemed safe, officials will investigate what caused the explosion.
The contractor that caused the leak isn’t affiliated with We Energies, company spokeswoman Amy Jahns told CNN affiliate WMTV. The gas main was shut off, and about 500 natural gas customers were without service as of about 5:30 a.m., she said.
Barr’s wife and business co-owner Abby Barr told WISC-TV her husband was a volunteer fire captain. She said he went to check on a gas leak while other firefighters evacuated people.
“He was especially wanting to make sure he was on that call because it was affecting something else we loved so much – our bar. He told me he was going down there and I asked him why and he just looked like a kid in a candy store. It’s what he loved to do. He loved helping people,” Barr told WISC-TV.
Cory Barr leaves behind Abby Barr and their twin 3-year-old girls.
“I’m the luckiest girl in the world to have known him and have him be a part of my life and be an excellent father to my girls,” Barr told WISC-TV. “I don’t know what I’m going to do without him.”
She said he had so much passion for the fire service.
“I always looked up to him and admired him because I feel like it takes a special kind of person to be on a fire department and be running in toward something that everyone else was running away from,” she said.
Sun Prairie Fire Chief Christopher Garrison said Barr had served more than 10 years with the department.
“We are hurt,” Garrison said of his team’s loss of one of its veterans, “but we will come back.”