SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. (WBAY) - A Wisconsin community is in mourning the day after a deadly gas explosion in Sun Prairie. Wisconsin is remembering fallen Sun Prairie volunteer firefighter Captain Cory Barr, who died responding to Tuesday night's gas explosion.
Sun Prairie firefighter Capt. Cory Barr (left) with his wife and twin daughters
Five other firefighters were injured as crews from across southern Wisconsin responded to the explosion.
"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, it could have been a lot worse, but this is by far, the largest I've ever experienced in my career," said Lt. Kevin Konopacki, Sun Prairie Police Department.
At about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, emergency responders began evacuating downtown buildings after a contractor struck a natural gas line. Just a half hour later, the explosion damaged at least five buildings, including Barr's tavern, The Barr House.
Action 2 News reporter Sierra Gillespie's parents live a 15 minute drive from downtown Sun Prairie. They could see the smoke from one town over, and it was visible for hours.
Hours away in Action 2 News viewing area, Northeast Wisconsin is feeling the affects of the explosion.
Gov. Scott Walker honored Capt. Barr with a moment of silence while visiting Oshkosh before going to Sun Prairie Wednesday afternoon. "A volunteer firefighter, two kids, a spouse, and a lot of loss over in Sun Prairie."
Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin union and a gubernatorial candidate, called the explosion "horrific."
"Whenever we lose a firefighter, period, whether it be to cancer or occupational illness, it's tragic. But to lose someone in the clear line of duty, it's horrific. It makes you stop and think," Mitchell said.
The Sun Prairie Fire Department is mainly a volunteer force, so many weren't members of the union, but the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin is bringing in a peer support team for the city's emergency responders and helping Barr's family with expenses.
Former Badger football star and current Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt donated $10,000 to the GoFundMe account for the Barr family.
Help has also poured in to Sun Prairie High School in the form of snacks, water and hefty donations to help the Red Cross assist those who were forced to evacuate their homes. The Red Cross says at one point they stopped asking for donations because they received so many.
Officials and friends alike say this explosion has shaken the Sun Prairie community.
"This community lost a champion of downtown Sun Prairie," Patrick Depula, a business owner and friend of Barr, said. "I don't think his legacy is going to be forgotten, and I think the spirit that he embodies is essentially the spirit of Sun Prairie, and Sun Prairie's going to get through this as a community."
"The outpouring of messages coming in about him and how wonderful he was... it's not people saying it, it's true. It's 110 percent true. He'd give the shirt off his back," wife Abby Barr said. She called her husband and father of their twin girls the "best husband a girl could ask for."
In Sun Prairie, Gov. Walker called Capt. Barr a hero. "It is a tragedy because of his death, but he is without a doubt a hero because of those who worked with him. Because there is no doubt, looking at that site, because had they not evacuated the people, the tragedy of one would have been far greater."
Wisconsin's U.S. senators also expressed their sympathy on social media.
"Our hearts go out to the family of Cory Barr, captain of the volunteer fire department in Sun Prairie, who died in a gas explosion last night. God bless our first responders," Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) tweeted.
"My thoughts are with Sun Prairie today after last night's tragic loss of life. We give thanks to our brave first responders for their service and sacrifice," Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) tweeted.
A procession for Captain Barr was scheduled for Wednesday evening.