A Wisconsin fire captain was killed and more than a dozen other people, among them first responders, were injured when a natural gas explosion leveled multiple buildings on Tuesday night.
The blast that occurred in Sun Prairie at around 7.15pm ignited a fire that sent billowing smoke that could be seen for miles around.
Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, on Wednesday identified Capt Cory Barr, a 10-year veteran of the city’s volunteer department, as the firefighter who was killed the night before.
Tragic death: Fire Capt Cory Barr, 34, pictured here with his wife and their twins, has been identified by friends and family as the first responder who was killed in the Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, gas explosion on Tuesday night
A car is seen burning after catching fire due to the powerful blast spraked by a natural gas leak in downtown Sun Prairie on Tuesday
Barr, 34, worked as a real estate agent and was the owner of The Barr House bar in Sun Prairie, which was housed in one of the buildings damaged in the explosion. He opened the drinking establishment in 2016.
He and wife Abby have twin girls.
Mrs Barr released a statement to The Associated Press on Wednesday afternoon saying he had been a firefighter for 15 years and was the ‘best husband a girl could ask for.’
She says he lived his life by the motto ‘happy wife, happy life.’ The couple’s twin girls just turned three. She says the girls would run up to him screaming ‘Daddy’s home!’ whenever he walked through the door.
Another firefighter suffered critical injuries in the blast but his condition has been stabilized, according to Sun Prairie Police Lt. Kevin Konopacki. Four other firefighters, a police officer and seven civilians were also hurt.
‘The Sun Prairie Fire Department is strong. We will keep on building from this. We are hurt, but we will come back,’ Sun Prairie Fire Chief Christopher Garrison said.
Barr’s pub, The Bar House, was among the five buildings that were damaged in the blast
Barr and wife Abby (pictured in the center) opened the drinking establishment in 2016
Hard-working: Barr worked as a real estate agent and served as a captain with the Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department for at least a decade
The explosion rocked the city of 30,000 after a contractor struck a natural gas main Tuesday
Five other firefighters, a police officer and seven civilians were injured in the explosion and fire
Witnesses reported the powerful blast about 7:15pm. It sent a plume of smoke and flames into the air
Police officers shut down a street as firefighters work the scene of an explosion in downtown Sun Prairie
Konopacki said the firefighters were taken to a hospital while the officer was treated at the scene. An initial sweep found no new victims in the buildings impacted by the blast.
WE Energies spokeswoman Amy Jahns said workers for a private contractor punctured a 4-inch gas main, causing a leak that resulted in the explosion that rained burning debris on downtown Sun Prairie and set vehicles parked nearby on fire.
Authorities evacuated buildings within a half-mile adius from the center of the explosion. The Barr House and Glass Nickel Pizza exploded after the gas ignited, police said. The Professional Building, Water Tower Chophouse and a residential home were also damaged.
The Red Cross assisted evacuees at a shelter set up at Sun Prairie High School. According to an update from the City of Sun Prairie, about 500 customers were without natural gas as of Wednesday morning.
Steve Owen, 60, who owns Sun City Cyclery and Skates in downtown Sun Prairie, said he saw firefighters and police officers on the street and then the explosion happened. He said the building across from his shop ‘literally lifted up.’
He said the force of the blast knocked him back in his chair and that he ran outside and saw a ball of fire.
‘People were scrambling,’ said Owen, who lives above his shop.
Jill Thompson, 56, who lives about two blocks away, said she saw smoke immediately after the blast occurred.
‘It shook the whole building,’ Thompson said. ‘I thought someone had hit the building with their vehicle.’
The decision by authorities to evacuate the nearby buildings likely saved lives
The blast appeared to be centered on the Barr House, a pub in an area filled with other bars, restaurants and businesses