Explosion in Wisconsin town kills firefighter

SUN PRAIRIE, Wis.  —One firefighter has died and another was critically injured in a gas explosion and fire that leveled several buildings in downtown Sun Prairie.

Authorities said at an early Wednesday morning news conference that at least six firefighters were injured along with some civilians when a private contractor struck a natural gas main about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Firefighters arrived to investigate the leak and cordon off the area. The buildings exploded a short time later raining debris in the downtown area. The fire resulting from the explosion ignited some cars parked in the area.

A plume of smoke could be seen for miles around the community of 30,000 near Madison.

WE Energies spokeswoman Amy Jahns said workers for a contractor apparently punctured a 4-inch natural gas main, sending gas leaking into a building ahead of the explosion.

Konopacki said authorities were evacuating the area when the explosion occurred, likely saving lives.

All 12 gas lines in the area were shut off by about 9:30 p.m.

The blast appeared to be centered on the Barr House, a pub in an area filled with other bars, restaurants and businesses. Authorities evacuated a half-mile radius and set up a shelter at Sun Prairie High School.

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 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."

The area is about half a block from City Hall.