SUN PRAIRIE -- A communications company said Thursday, July 12 that a subcontractor was working "on site" before an explosion that killed a Sun Prairie firefighter this week.
Authorities have said a crew punctured a natural gas main in downtown Sun Prairie on Tuesday, resulting in an explosion that damaged five buildings and killed Sun Prairie Fire Department Captain Cory Barr.
Verizon Wireless said Thursday it had contracted with Lawrence, Kansas-based Bear Communications for a fiber optics project in Sun Prairie. Bear said in a statement that its subcontractor was working "on site" but gave no other details. Bear spokesman Scott Stein said in a telephone interview that the subcontractor's employees were working in the "vicinity" of the explosion and were evacuated before the blast occurred. He declined to comment further.
Bear Communications statement:
"First and foremost, our condolences and prayers go out to the family of Sun Prairie volunteer fire department Capt. Cory Barr who lost his life in the explosion. Our prayers also go out to those injured in the accident. We share in the community’s shock and sadness over this tragedy.
A subcontractor of Bear Communications was performing work on site before the explosion, but there are many questions that remain to be answered as the investigation continues. We are fully cooperating with investigators so they can develop a comprehensive overview of what happened and why. Since this is an ongoing investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment any further."
"Tuesday evening's explosion in Sun Prairie is tragic. Verizon's employees join the community in mourning the loss of a firefighter's life, and we pray for the speedy and complete recovery of those harmed. Verizon contracted with Bear Communications for a fiber project for the Madison area, including Sun Prairie, to improve our wireless network. No Verizon employees were present at the job site. Verizon does contract with local providers in various markets to provide fiber backhaul for our networks. While we have not been contacted about the investigation, both we and Bear are prepared to work with law enforcement, public safety and public officials as they investigate this tragic situation."
Three days after the blast, it remains unclear who is responsible for puncturing the main.
Sun Prairie officials declined to release any information Thursday about the identity of the workers who punctured the main, citing an ongoing investigation.
Investigative crews along with fire department assets, city engineering and building inspection officials Thursday were sifting through debris on the west side of Main Street, a couple hundred feet from the blast site amid the ongoing investigation -- as a quiet sadness overcame neighbors watching the men in hard hats and neon vests.
"It's gone. Just stuff you'll never see again. I just hope everything gets back together -- that's all," said Dick Berg.
"My stomach just dropped. What was there is gone. It's never going to be the same," said Courtney Harper.
Police said the Madison Fire Department's HURT (Heavy Urban Rescue Team) was conducting a secondary search of the area where the explosion happened "for any possible victims," along with "evaluating the structural integrity of the damaged buildings."
They reiterated that they had not taken any calls regarding missing persons in the area.
Restoration crews established a perimeter as federal, state and local officials collected evidence -- with only authorized personnel allowed beyond the fence. Sun Prairie police said officials "have been working on decreasing the perimeter of the blast area to allow business owners and residents to gather property and to secure their belongings from damage that was done as a result of the explosion." They noted Thursday afternoon that people who were evacuated were being allowed back into their homes once cleared by We Energies. They said "the perimeter will continue to break down as more people are moved back into their homes."
Police released a map showing where the security fence was set up "to protect the area deemed to still be under investigation and unsafe for public access."
The green area is the location of that security fence. The perimeter outside the fenced area will be protected by law enforcement. The areas marked on the map in purple will be open only for local traffic and not through traffic, with the exception of the 200 block of East Main Street, where there will be no vehicle traffic allowed, police said Thursday.
Police said Thursday residents have been allowed to return to their homes outside of the security fence perimeter, but no residents or business owners are allowed access inside the security fence perimeter without first requesting entrance.
Those requests can be made by calling Sun Prairie Police Department’s non-emergency phone number at 608-837-7336, and police said those requests will be evaluated by on-site safety personnel.
Meanwhile, Bear Communications said in its statement that "many questions" remain and it's cooperating with investigators. TDS Telecom said it has been working on a fiber optics project in Sun Prairie but none of their workers or contractors ruptured the line.
Amy Jahns is a spokeswoman for We Energies, which owns the gas main. She declined to comment Thursday when asked if whoever punctured the line had made any effort to locate it before starting work, referring questions back to police.
The explosion happened after police received a call of a gas leak in downtown Sun Prairie, a Madison suburb of about 30,000 people. Something sparked the gas while firefighters and other emergency responders were evacuating people from the area.
The blast rained debris up and down the street and leveled the Barr House, a tavern Barr owned. Ensuing fires damaged four other buildings, including Glass Nickel Pizza and a steak restaurant.
Barr was working to evacuate people when he was caught in the blast, Fire Chief Chris Garrison has said. Eleven other people, including five other firefighters and a police officer, were hurt.
Barr had been with the department for 15 years. He also worked as a real estate agent and owned the Barr House. Sun Prairie Fire Chief Chris Garrison said Barr and his fellow firefighters and police evacuated 115 people before the blast. Authorities said five other firefighters, a police officer and five civilians were hurt and transported to a hospital. The firefighters included two who were caught in the blast with Barr. All had been released by Wednesday evening except for one firefighter, who was upgraded from critical to stable condition.
Barr's wife, Abby Barr, said in a statement that Cory Barr was "the best husband a girl could ask for" and lived his life by the motto "happy wife, happy life." The couple was raising twin daughters who just turned 3 years old. She said the girls would run up to him screaming "Daddy's home!" whenever he walked through the door.
"He was so outgoing, goofy, big-hearted, and would give the shirt off his back to anyone," she said. "To say that our family is devastated and heart-broken is an understatement."
Hundreds of people lined the streets in Sun Prairie and beyond as a procession of fire trucks escorted the body of a fallen firefighter to a funeral home.
Some people held candles Wednesday night, others held signs to pay their respects to Cory Barr and support his family, which includes his wife Abby and 3-year-old twin girls.
Fire trucks from across the region participated in the procession from the Dane County Medical Examiner's Office in McFarland to the Tuschen-Newcomer Funeral Home in Sun Prairie.
A private visitation will be held for Barr on on Friday night, July 13 at the Tuschen Newcomer Funeral Home on Columbus Street in Sun Prairie, according to the Wisconsin State Firefighters Memorial. His funeral will be held on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Sun Prairie High School, according to the WSFM.
Firefighters were back at the scene in downtown Sun Prairie about 11:30 p.m. Wednesday when a small fire re-ignited at Glass Nickel Pizza.