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Wisconsin Explosion
Firefighters work the scene of an explosion in downtown Sun Prairie, Wis., Tuesday, July 10, 2018. The explosion rocked the downtown area of Sun Prairie, a suburb of Madison, after a contractor struck a natural gas main Monday, sending an unknown number of people to hospitals, authorities said. (Amber Arnold/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

Firefighter killed in gas explosion fire near Madison, Wisconsin

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By TODD RICHMOND , Associated Press

SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. (AP) — A firefighter was killed and at least a dozen other people were injured when a natural gas explosion leveled at least two buildings in a Wisconsin community, authorities said Wednesday.

Wisconsin Explosion
Residents are relocated from a nearby home after an explosion in downtown Sun Prairie, Wis., Tuesday, July 10, 2018. The explosion rocked the downtown area of Sun Prairie, a suburb of Madison, after a contractor struck a natural gas main Monday, sending an unknown number of people to hospitals, authorities said. (Amber Arnold/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

Another firefighter suffered critical injuries after fire crews arrived to investigate a gas leak in downtown Sun Prairie about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and several buildings exploded, ignited a fire that sent billowing smoke that could be seen for miles around.

Four other firefighters, a police officer and seven civilians suffered injuries, according to Sun Prairie Police Lt. Kevin Konopacki. The firefighter who was critically injured has been stabilized, Konopacki said.

WE Energies spokeswoman Amy Jahns said workers for a private contractor punctured a 4-inch gas main, causing a leak that resulted in the explosion that rained debris around the downtown area and ignited vehicles parked in the area.

Wisconsin Explosion
A major fire has broken out with a massive plume of smoke after a loud boom was heard in Sun Prairie, Wis., Tuesday, July 10, 2018. Firefighters from Sun Prairie and surrounding communities are responding to the blaze. (AP Photo/Todd Richmond)

Authorities evacuated a half-mile radius around the center of the explosion. The Barr House and Glass Nickel Pizza exploded after the gas ignited, police said.

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The Red Cross assisted evacuees at a shelter set up 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."

Wisconsin Explosion
A large plume of smoke from a massive fire is seen in Sun Prairie, Wis., Tuesday, July 10, 2018. Witnesses said the fire broke out after a loud boom Tuesday night shook the community. Police blocked off downtown streets from traffic and onlookers. (AP Photo/Todd Richmond)

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.

Wisconsin Explosion
People evacuate as they were told to move farther away the scene of an explosion in downtown Sun Prairie, Wis., Tuesday, July 10, 2018. The explosion rocked the downtown area of Sun Prairie, a suburb of Madison, after a contractor struck a natural gas main Monday, sending an unknown number of people to hospitals, authorities said. (Amber Arnold/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

Jill Thompson, 56, who lives about two blocks away, said she saw smoke immediately after the blast occurred.

"It shook the whole building," Thompson said. "I thought someone had hit the building with their vehicle."

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