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One of the two owners of a Southwest Side home leveled by an explosion Wednesday remained unaccounted for as investigators sifted through the rubble with heavy machinery Thursday afternoon, authorities said.

Describing investigators’ work as a “search and investigation” rather than a “search and rescue,” Madison Fire Department Chief Steven Davis said gas was a suspected factor in the explosion at 7806 Stratton Way, but revealed few other details at a Thursday afternoon press conference about what may have led to the explosion.

“As far as the investigation goes, right now (investigators) are just trying to recover any evidence that may point them in the direction that would have caused the explosion,” he said.

The home is owned by Steven Pirus and Lee Anne Pirus, according to assessor records.

Davis said he didn’t know how many people lived in the house.

The other homeowner has been interviewed by police, said Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain. He declined to say which homeowner is missing.

The two-story home with two basement levels was a total loss, Davis said. He said the blast pushed the house’s walls out, causing the roof to collapse.

The house exploded at about 2 p.m. Wednesday, sending a plume of smoke into the air that could be seen for miles around and scattering parts of the house hundreds of feet away from the explosion site.

Neighbors said the first explosion — which was followed by several smaller blasts — shook nearby buildings before flames burned some of the debris.

A civilian and a firefighter suffered non-life-threatening injuries, Davis said Wednesday.

Nearby homes were only minimally damaged, but residents in eight homes near the blast site haven’t been allowed to return home. Davis said those residents would hopefully be able to return Thursday night.

On Thursday afternoon, glass and debris still littered South High Point Road and Stratton Way near where the explosion occurred. Investigators could be seen looking through rubble as two backhoes dug through the wreckage of the home.

“It’s a lot of heavy lifting, a lot of heavy work,” Davis said.

He said he thinks investigators will wrap up their work by Friday evening, with work resuming at the site Friday morning.

Davis said specialized dogs were called in to help sniff out any possible explosives or accelerants, but didn’t say if cadaver dogs were included in the search.

Fire investigators are being assisted by Madison police, the state Fire Marshal’s Office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Davis said the Salvation Army and Red Cross have been on the scene to assist displaced homeowners and to feed investigators.


Bill Novak is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.

Chris Aadland is a reporting intern for the Wisconsin State Journal.