After the two fires at Madison Gas & Electric facilities were extinguished Friday morning, East Washington Avenue’s downtown-bound lanes reopened and traffic jams cleared, but it still wasn’t quite business as usual along the corridor.
At the BP gas station that adjoins the site of the transmission station fire, power was still out as of 11:20 a.m., disabling all gas sales as well as debit and credit card transactions. When a customer who hadn’t heard about the fires asked to buy a lottery ticket, employee Javid Khan explained there was “nothing, no lottery.”
Khan had been at work for about 40 minutes when the explosion hit, shaking the convenience store.
“I was scared,” he said. “There was one lady in front of me, and she started running out. I said, ‘What’s going on?’ and she said, ‘I don’t know, run!’”
Those in the gas station ran across East Washington.
“There were a lot of people screaming and yelling,” Khan said. “Every two minutes there was something going up… We didn’t know what was gonna happen, and those flames were getting bigger and bigger.
“We were just thinking, ‘Maybe it could come here,’” Khan said, noting that the station’s three gas tanks, which he said hold around 12,000 gallons, could have exploded. “It would have been a disaster.”
Asked about safety procedures, Khan said: “If something like that happens, just run. Don’t stand there, don’t start watching, don’t start making videos. Just go away.”
He said many onlookers didn’t follow that advice.
“It can come up on you and you’ll be hurt, you’ll be burned, something will happen,” Khan said.
Jared Hynum ran to the scene after feeling the explosion shake his East Mifflin Street apartment around 7:45 a.m. Hynum had planned to meet his mom for breakfast, but he doesn't have cellular service and with the power outage killing his internet access, he couldn’t communicate with her. He hurried from place to place downtown to try to find Wi-Fi service, but was too late to meet her before work.
At Festival Foods, a handwritten sign hung on the closed doors read “Temporarily closed. Power failure.” Assistant store director Tami Koeth said the store was running on “a very basic backup generator.”
“We only run the criticals,” she said, explaining that staff moved quickly to load perishable items like meats and cheeses from the deli into special coolers, completing the task within about 40 minutes. “The whole team rallied. It was absolutely amazing."
As of 9:45 a.m., the store was “in a holding pattern,” with additional refrigeration trucks en route. Koeth said she called MGE to find out when power might be back. “They don’t know either,” she said.
By 1:30 p.m., power had been restored at Festival Foods and employees were “fixing things” but did not yet know when the store would re-open.
Verona resident Robyn Ward didn't hear about the fires and was surprised to find the grocery store closed. She drove into Madison with her two-year-old daughter, Veda, to check out Festival Foods, as the store will soon open a Verona location.
“I guess I should listen to the local news,” Ward said as she and her daughter turned back. “Power, we take it for granted, I guess."
Also closed due to the power outage was the box office at The Sylvee nightclub, located on South Livingston across the street from the site of the downtown fire. That was a disappointment for Diana Klapperich, who drove 90 minutes from Brandon, Wisconsin, near Fond du Lac, to buy tickets for humorous rock band Steel Panther’s December show on the first day of sales. She plans to make the drive again Saturday to avoid high service fees from Ticketmaster.
At the Kohl Center, which opened late Friday morning as a public cooling center, UW-Madison Police said around noon that no one had yet shown up to take advantage of the service. The facility’s lobby and seating bowl will be open to the public until 6 p.m.
Heading toward the Kohl Center was Barbara Parisi, a Red Cross disaster mental health volunteer and sister to Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. Wearing a red vest and a lanyard full of pins marking the various disasters where she has worked over the last ten years, the retired social worker said she would be on hand to talk with people who had been displaced due to the outages.
“I’m gonna go in, find out how everyone is doing ... and how they’re feeling about being uprooted and any concerns that they might have about getting back in their homes,” Parisi said.