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Gas line explosion levels several buildings in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin killing one firefighter

An explosion in downtown Sun Prairie Tuesday evening leveled at least one building and prompted evacuations of homes and businesses within a half-mile radius.

We Energies spokeswoman Amy Jahns said in a press conference that a contractor who is not affiliated with the company hit a We Energies gas line, causing a leak and then an explosion, Jahns said. The explosion happened at the intersection of Main and Bristol Streets.

"We arrived on scene to make the area safe. The natural gas has been turned off at this time and we're just continuing to make the area safe," Jahns said, just before 10:30 p.m.

Two firefighters were taken to a local hospital and a police officer was treated on the scene, according to Lt. Kevin Konopacki of the Sun Prairie Police Department. Several civilians were also hurt and treated at the scene, he said. The condition of those hospitalized is not being released.

Several buildings were significantly damaged, and there's no timetable yet for when people will be allowed back in the half-mile radius/evacuation zone. Konopacki said several nearby businesses including Sun Prairie's City Hall, located two blocks from the explosion site, will be closed on Wednesday.

"We will be closing city hall until further notice, so right now, what has to happen is the fire department has to secure that fire-- that residual fire that is going on. Once they do that, they will then go in and basically do a search and rescue, to see if there's anyone else that's missing, that's hurt," Konopacki said.

Fire crews will monitor the area overnight for any flare ups, and work with utility crews to ventilate gas and sewer mains. All 12 gas mains have been shut down and a half mile radius has been blocked off from the scene.

"About 500 of our customers are affected by this. The natural gas has been turned off to those areas and what we're doing is, we're going to be waiting on the authorities to tell us when we can go in to relight those customers, but obviously it's still a very active situation," Jahns said.

Fire crews worked into the evening and flames could still be seen from Sun Prairie High School, nearly one mile away just before midnight.

The gas leak was reported at 6:21 p.m. Eyewitness reports came in after 7 p.m. that a plume of smoke was seen near Main and Bristol Street at the Barr House, 100 W. Main Street. Razor Sharp Screen Printing and Glass Nickel Pizza were also significantly damaged 

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