Wife says firefighter killed in explosion was "best husband"

SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. (WBAY) A Wisconsin firefighter killed in a gas explosion is being remembered as a loving husband and father.

Captain Cory Barr was killed in Tuesday's blast in downtown Sun Prairie.

Barr's wife, Abby, released a statement to the Associated Press saying Cory was the "best husband a girl could ask for." She told the news organization that Cory's motto was "happy wife, happy life."

He was also a father to twin three-year old girls.

Mahlon Mitchell, President of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, released a statement Wednesday identifying Captain Barr as a victim of the blast.

"On behalf of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin Executive Board, I want to offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Captain Cory Barr of the Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department, who passed away yesterday while working at the explosion site in downtown Sun Prairie. We would also like to offer our prayers and support to our sisters and brothers of the Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department and the crew of Sun Prairie EMS who attended to Captain Barr at the scene and transported him to the hospital. Our Peer Support Team has been activated to assist Sun Prairie’s first responders during this very difficult time.” - Mahlon Mitchell

Barr also owned the Barr House, a tavern that was damaged in the explosion.

Officials say another firefighter remains in the hospital in serious but stable condition. Four other firefighters were treated and released.

"He [Barr] was a veteran of the fire department. He's been around over 10 years, but we really want to give the dignity to the family and we don't want to discuss any of the issues at this point," said Sun Prairie Fire Chief Christopher Garrison.

The Sun Prairie Police Department says around 6:21 p.m. Tuesday, firefighters and police responded to a report of a gas leak. Crews were in the process of evacuating people when there was an explosion at about 7:00 p.m.

The explosion was followed by an inferno that firefighters were working to put out several hours after the blast.

Madison Fire Department's Heavy Urban Rescue Team is going through the damaged buildings to search for any possible victims and to evaluate the structures.

There have been no reports of missing people.

"Thank God that our firefighters and those that responded and our police officers were able to get a majority of those people evacuated before the explosion," said Sun Prairie Police Lt. Kevin Konopacki. "It could have been a lot worse, but this is by far, the largest I've ever experienced in my career."

Several public safety employees suffered injuries that were not severe.

Seven civilians had minor injuries.

"It is a difficult thing. We've done some initial debriefing and some support groups have been brought in already, and then we will keep working on the next phase of that process, in the next coming hours," said Bill Sullivan, Assistant Fire Chief.

At least five buildings sustained significant damage: Barr House, Glass Nickel Pizza, the Professional Building, Water Tower Chophouse, and a residential home.

Action 2 News spoke with a man who lived in a home near the blast zone. That home is no more.

"I definitely didn't think it was going to burn down. I had a chance to run through the house real quick and grab the animals. I grabbed a hard drive and my computer and that was it because I figured it would be standing when I got back," said Joseph Powelka. "I figured they'd put that fire out, I'd come back clean up the glass and everything, never in my wildest dreams did I think it would burn down."

The gas leak was contained Tuesday evening, but the fire continued to burn. Konopacki described it as a residual fire from the ventilation process.

WE Energies spokeswoman Cathy Schulze says a contractor struck a natural gas main shortly before that explosion.

Investigators are still working to discover the origin of the explosion.

"We can't say at this point. We had significant gas travel up sewer mains several blocks away and that's why the evacuation zone was as large as it was, and still is, because of the amount of gas that was in underground utilities," Sullivan says.

The Red Cross is helping evacuees at Sun Prairie High School.

Police have no timeline for when all evacuees will be allowed back into their homes and businesses.

Witnesses reported seeing and feeling the explosion and fires up to a mile away.

The lieutenant became emotional during a Tuesday night news conference when thanking the community for their support, concern and offers of assistance. He called the response from his community "fantastic."

The American Red Cross and the Salvation Army are helping the evacuees.

Click here for Sun Prairie online fundraisers.