SUN PRAIRIE — The firefighter killed in the massive explosion Downtown Tuesday night has been identified as Capt. Cory Barr.
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, in a tweet posted Wednesday morning, extended his condolences to the Barr family.
"Our prayers go out to the family of Cory Barr — a community leader & volunteer firefighter who gave his life protecting his community, Parisi said.
Barr and his wife Abby own the Barr House, 100 W. Main St., one of the businesses destroyed in the blast.
Patrick DePula, owner of Savatore's Tomato Pies, said he knew Barr professionally through the Sun Prairie Business Improvement District, but he said Barr was also a leader in the city.
"He's a champion of our community," DePula said. "He and his wife bought the Barr House with the intent to build community around it."
To bring in and engage Sun Prairie residents and visitors, the Barr House held regular events -- sometimes several a week, according to its Facebook page -- including league trivia, karaoke, bingo and raffles where people could get to know each other.
The ruins of buildings leveled Downtown Tuesday night are being searched Wednesday to see if any other victims are in the rubble, but police feel the only person killed is Barr.
"We have had no reports of any missing persons," said Sun Prairie Police Lt. Kevin Konopacki.
The Madison Fire Department Heavy Urban Rescue Team went to the scene to go through the buildings.
Konopacki said more details would be released later Wednesday on the firefighter who died from his injuries, but no new information was available officially from the department by mid-morning.
Dane County Medical Examiner's Office spokesman Barry Irmen said he hoped to release more information in the afternoon after the forensic examination is completed and family has been notified.
Konopacki said residents were being let back into their homes after being evacuated Tuesday night, but their homes have to be cleared by WE Energies staff to make sure there is no danger.
DePula said he hasn't been allowed back to Salvatore's, 121 E. Main St. He and patrons of the restaurant smelled the gas before the explosion, he said, and police officials told him to clear the building.
DePula said the Barr House blew up as he walked across the street.
"Buildings are just buildings. Property is just property. Life is what matters. Life is what's irreplaceable," DePula said.
Red Cross spokesman Justin Kern said about 85 people were assisted or stayed the night at the organization’s post set up at Sun Prairie High School’s gymnasium. Many of those people were from senior assisted living facilities in the city, he said, but were able to return home this morning.
Volunteers and staff will remain available at least through the day, Kern said, if not longer.
Kelly Thompson, owner of Kontext Architecture, was not allowed into his office on the corner of Church and Main streets – just at the edge of the area still blocked off.
Eva Allen, who works at Kontext, said they were told their building had to be inspected to ensure it is structurally sound and safe to enter.
“I guess everyone is getting an unexpected day off from work,” Thompson said.
Thompson said he knew the firefighter who died but declined to identify him.
“It’s such a close community” in Sun Prairie, Thompson said. “I feel for his kids.”
Matt Weber, the youth and family director at Our Savior's Lutheran Church, said the moments following the blast were confusing. He and many of his neighbors were told to evacuate, but they weren’t allowed to drive away from the area – starting the engines of their cars could cause more damage with the gas leak.
As Weber was walking from his home, just a few blocks from the church, he said he told others that he would open the church doors for anyone looking for shelter. A few people stopped in to use the space until they were able to find other places to stay.
“It was such a sudden and tragic event,” Weber said. “Our prayers go out to the Barr family, and the first responders and the community as a whole.”
A large area of downtown Sun Prairie stayed off limits Wednesday morning, with streets in the blast area closed to traffic and people not being allowed into the area.
As of 10 a.m., Main Street is closed at North Street for eastbound traffic and at Market Street for westbound traffic.
Southbound on Bristol Street, road closure begins at Cliff Street. On the south side of Main Street, South Bristol Street is closed to Linnerud Drive.
South Street is closed entirely in the blast area.
The police department said as of 10 a.m., residents were being allowed back to their homes on Flint Street, Union Street, Jones Street, North Street, Kroncke Drive, Linnerud Drive east of Market Street, Cannery Square, Cannery Place, Main Street east of Market Street, Chase Boulevard, Dewey Street and Hill Street.
About 50 TallGrass at Sun Prairie Senior Living residents were evacuated to Sun Prairie High School last night, but all are back at their home Wednesday morning.
Sun Prairie United Methodist church opened its doors as well Tuesday night, with about 50 people initially and six dogs evacuating to the church. 15 people and three dogs spent the night, and evacuees were leaving as of Wednesday.
“Our members and non members alike just came out of the woodwork to offer help and support, and staff helped out as well," said church administrative secretary Laura Meixner.
Another firefighter was hospitalized in critical condition, and a third firefighter was admitted to a hospital. A police officer, three firefighters, and seven civilians also were injured.
No one was found in any of the buildings damaged in the incident, Konopacki said.
At least five buildings had significant damage, including Barr House, Glass Nickel Pizza, the Professional Building, Water Tower Chophouse and a residence.
A full inventory of damaged or destroyed buildings has not been completed.
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. All 12 gas lines in the area were shut off by about 9:30 p.m.
Just after 10 p.m. Tuesday, firefighters were still putting out the 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.
Konopacki said an evacuation began after the gas leak was reported, and the time between the gas leak and the explosion likely prevented more injuries.
Konopacki had said Tuesday night that 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.
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 and sent a plume of smoke and flames into the air.
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.
Jeff Richgels of Madison.com and the Associated Press contributed to this story.