Residents in five-block radius of explosion were asked to evacuate

Residents and others are ordered to move farther away from the area of a gas leak explosion in downtown Sun Prairie.

SUN PRAIRIE — Two firefighters were hospitalized and others suffered minor injuries after a gas leak explosion Tuesday evening leveled a downtown Sun Prairie bar and caused a massive fire at a pizza restaurant.

Just after 10 p.m. Tuesday, firefighters were still putting out a blaze that began after a gas leak rupture at about 6:20 p.m. led to an explosion about 40 minutes later in the 100 block of West Main Street in downtown Sun Prairie.

Sun Prairie Police Lt. Kevin Konopacki said two firefighters were sent to the hospital and a police officer and several civilians were treated on the scene with minor injuries. He said an evacuation began after the gas leak was reported, and the time between the gas leak and the explosion likely prevented more injuries.

As of press time, there were no confirmed fatalities, but Konopacki said a search-and-rescue operation in the area couldn’t be completed until the fire was extinguished.

“We have a couple minor civilian injuries. Nothing major so that’s good news,” Konopacki said. “We’re going to ask the community to make sure you have (the two firefighters) in your prayers.”

Five people were treated for minor injuries at St. Mary’s emergency center in Sun Prairie, a hospital spokeswoman said.

A half-mile radius around the epicenter of the explosion was evacuated. The Barr House and Glass Nickel Pizza suffered “severe damage” in the incident,” Konopacki said. Other adjacent buildings were also damaged, though a full assessment was not available Tuesday night.

Sun Prairie blast site aerial
Cory Barr, firefighter killed, Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department photo
Fire burns in downtown Sun Prairie after a gas leak explosion
Building leveled by explosion in Sun Prairie
Residents in five-block radius of explosion were asked to evacuate

Twelve natural gas mains in the area were shut down by 9:30 p.m., WE Energies spokeswoman Amy Jahns said. There were 500 customers without natural gas, she said. Jahns said a contractor hit a natural gas main resulting in the leak that led to the explosion.

The Salvation Army and American Red Cross were assisting with evacuation centers at Sun Prairie High School and Patrick Marsh Middle School. All summer school activities for Wednesday are canceled, Sun Prairie Superintendent Brad Saron said.

Nearby Sun Prairie City Hall is closed Wednesday.

Emergency responders from State Patrol, the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, the DeForest and Waunakee police departments, the Madison Fire Department and other agencies were on the scene.

Konopacki said many residents in the area came flocking to the scene to ask how they could help or offer words of encouragement.

“There’s a reason I love living in Sun Prairie,” Konopacki said. “It’s not people coming up and saying, ‘What’s going on?’ It’s people coming up and saying, ‘How can I help?’ ”

Witnesses said a boom was heard at about 7:15 p.m. that shook the city of about 30,000 people.

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,” Owen said.

Jill Thompson, 56, who lives about two blocks from where the blast occurred, said, “It shook the whole building. I thought someone had hit the building with their vehicle. We seen the smoke immediately.”

Former Wisconsin State Journal photographer Mike King, who lives about a mile from the explosion, said the explosion caused his house to shake so much that he thought a tree had fallen on it.

“It was short but powerful,” King said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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