State and local law enforcement officials are actively investigating a gas leak turned explosion that killed a firefighter and destroyed or damaged multiple buildings in downtown Sun Prairie Tuesday night.
Sun Prairie Fire Capt. Cory Barr, a 15-year veteran of the department, was killed as a result of responding to the explosion. Officials mourned the loss to his family, the fire department and the community at a press conference Wednesday.
“We didn’t lose a firefighter,” Fire Chief Chris Garrison said. “We lost a family member, we lost a friend, a dear friend.”
Sun Prairie Police Lt. Kevin Konopacki said Barr responded to the explosion from his home, parked in front of the police station and ran to the scene, which included the Barr House, a tavern he owned with his wife since 2016.
The death remains under investigation by the Sun Prairie police and fire departments, the state’s Fire Marshal’s Office and the Dane County Medical Examiner’s Office. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is also investigating.
“The investigation has started in earnest and we anticipate we will be on scene for several days,” Sun Prairie Police Chief Pat Anhalt said.
At approximately 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, We Energies was notified that a third-party contractor hit a gas line. The explosion occurred at about 7 p.m. Officials would not comment on the contractor or the nature of the work. It is unknown if the contractor followed protocol for safe digging procedures.
Though gas leaks are typically minor and involve one ambulance, Tuesday’s incident required We Energies to shut off 12 gas valves and multiple law enforcement agencies to respond.
“We were not able to control it,” Garrison said. “All we were able to do was protect our residents.”
In addition to the death of Barr, five firefighters, one police officer and five civilians were transported to a hospital with injuries.
Buildings along the 100 block of Main Street including the Barr House, Glass Nickel Pizza, the Professional Building, Water Tower Chophouse and a residential home experienced significant damage due to the explosion.
Residents whose homes were affected by the gas leak were evacuated.
Gov. Scott Walker, who attended the press conference, expressed his sympathies and encouraged continual support for Barr’s family and the Sun Prairie community.
“It’s been amazing to see the devastation that was brought on,” Walker said. “Obviously all that can be fixed, but first and foremost it is tragic because of the loss of Capt. Barr.”
Reflecting on the “full force” response of the community and first responders, Walker said the Sun Prairie community will rebuild.
“There's no doubt this community, this downtown will be better and stronger because of it,” Walker said.
Mayor Paul Esser said the response of the community has been “amazing.”
“It says we’ve got a heart, compassion and we care about people,” Esser said.