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Explosion kills firefighters

A massive natural gas explosion killed a firefighter and levelled portions of a city block in a southern Wisconsin community, including a bar the firefighter owned, authorities said Wednesday.

The blast in downtown Sun Prairie on Tuesday evening also injured at least 11 other people and left residents of the Madison suburb wondering how they'll put their downtown back together.

"It's just hard to look at the pictures (of the explosion and ruined downtown) and see what our city looks like now," resident Erin Updike said.

The blast happened after police got a call at 6:30 p.m. that a construction crew working on a downtown street had punctured a WE Energies natural gas line. Police and firefighters arrived to investigate and were evacuating the area when the gas exploded shortly after 7 p.m. The blast ignited four-story high flames that burned long into the night and belched a smoke plume visible for miles.

"It looked like flames shooting out of heaven and just debris going everywhere," said Sun Prairie resident Benjamin Berry.

At least five buildings were damaged, including the Barr House tavern, Glass Nickel Pizza and a steak restaurant, according to a news release on the city's website.

Sun Prairie Fire Department Capt. Cory Barr, 34, was caught in the explosion as he was working to evacuate people from the area, Fire Chief Chris Garrison said during a news conference Wednesday evening. Barr died after he was transported to a local hospital, the Dane County Medical Examiner's Office said in a news release.

Barr had been with the department for 15 years. He also worked as a real estate agent and owned the Barr House. Garrison said Barr and his fellow firefighters and police evacuated 115 people before the blast. The chief choked up as he spoke and had to take a long pause to gather himself.

"We didn't lose a firefighter yesterday," he said. "We lost a family member."



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