SUN PRAIRIE (WKOW) – There are indications the location of underground utilities were marked in Sun Prairie’s downtown before a contractor struck a gas main with a deadly, damaging explosion ensuing.
Jessica Pagel lives in a home at Main and South Streets, close to the blast’s center at Main and Bristol streets.
“I was folding laundry in the dining room and my kids were playing, and all my windows imploded, and the house just shook,” Pagel tells 27 News.
Pagel says in the days before the explosion, preparations were made for excavation.
“They came and sprayed my lawn and put the little flags up, so I know they were doing digging there,” she says. “They had the cable, they had the gas lines marked, anything electrical,” Pagel told 27 News.
Just outside the cordoned off blast zone, yellow, caution flags denoting an underground natural gas line were still in the ground.
Pagel says she noticed nothing unusual about the construction work, even in the hours before Tuesday evening’s blast.
Sun Prairie city officials have yet to release the Permit For Street Opening associated with the contracting work, and what company or individual was granted the permit. Officials have also yet to identify what contractor did the actual excavation.
WE Energies spokesperson Cathy Schulze says the digging was not in connection with any project by her company. She says the work was carried out by a third-party contractor. Schulze declined to comment on whether a request was made through the state’s Digger’s Hotline for WE Energies to mark the location of underground utilities, citing an on-going investigation.
Schulze says once her firm was notified of a gas leak Tuesday around 6:30 p.m., a company troubleshooter known as a natural gas fitter was dispatched as a first responder to check out the situation. Schulze tells 27 News the natural gas fitter arrived just minutes before the explosion just after 7 p.m.
“He was able to relay we needed additional help there,” Schulze said.
Schulze says the fitter was unable to determine if the leak could have been addressed by squeezing off a severed line, or through another intervention, due to the brief time available before the blast.
Authorities say Sun Prairie Fire Captain Cory Barr was killed in the explosion, with another firefighter still hospitalized in stable condition. Officials say at least four buildings were demolished by the blast.
Emergency officials say more than five dozen people were evacuated from nearby restaurants, other businesses and homes during the roughly thirty minutes after the leak’s discovery and the explosion, averting a greater tragedy.
“So thankful for our firefighters and police officers, they did an outstanding job in the situation,” Pagel says.