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NATURAL GAS EXPLOSIONS ROCK WISCONSIN SUBURB

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A series of explosions rocked a Wisconsin community after a contractor struck a natural-gas main in a downtown area filled with bars and other businesses. The blasts injured two firefighters and a police officer.

First responders rushed to the scene of a reported gas leak and an evacuation was underway when the first blast happened last night, said Sun Prairie Police Lieutenant Kevin Konopacki. He added that lives were likely saved by the evacuation, set in motion by people smelling the odor of natural gas.

No deaths were reported and no one was reported missing, but Konopacki said buildings would be searched in the Madison suburb of about 30,000 once the flames were out. Firefighters were still battling flames more than three hours after the explosion.

The first powerful explosion occurred at around 7:15 p.m., sending a plume of smoke and flames into the air.

Konopacki said the firefighters were taken to a hospital, while the officer was treated at the scene. He said some civilians suffered minor injuries, but none required hospitalization. He didn’t know the exact number of civilians hurt.

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.

The blast, about half a block from City Hall, appeared to be centered on the Barr House, a pub. 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.