When Sun Prairie Exploded… #SunPrairieStrong

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When Sun Prairie Exploded. It seems just like yesterday… It was a typical summer evening here, except Miss Sarah was away at camp. We were watching a movie on TV and not only heard a large noise, but the entire house shook.

Think of all your windows and doors rattling at the same time, almost sounding like someone threw a big fat old-fashioned phone book against them. Andy went outside and could see the cloud of smoke coming from downtown, we had no idea that Sun Prairie exploded.

When Sun Prairie Exploded

Being a Desert Storm Vet, my mind tends to go to the worst-case scenario when I hear a large bang. Add a giant cloud of black smoke? It makes me happy that I have a full pantry, bug-out bags, and a large first aid kit.

Was it a bomb? That kept going through my head as so many bomb attacks and shootings have been all over the news lately… we were to learn soon that there was no attack, just human error at fault.

Andy, working for the local NBC station, grabbed his phone and took off towards “the hot zone”. All members of his work staff have a special app where they can directly link feeds to the station and he knew he would be on site a lot faster than the news truck from the west side of Madison.

I was torn about him running into the unknown until the station confirmed over the phone that a building blew up.

The gas leak was reported at 6:21 pm – a sub contractor for Verizon was working on fiber optic cable and hit a gas main. People who saw it said it was like a geyser shooting up, followed soon by a horrible smell. People quickly evacuated the area.

Shortly after that, the explosion was triggered and an entire building was just gone, with fire two stories tall attacking the space and surrounding buildings.

Mr Rogers always said:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Mr Rogers

That is so true of this community. The helpers came out in droves. Even our local police media liaison, Lt. Konopacki,  choked up at a press conference when he mentioned how people weren’t coming up asking what happened, but asking what they could do to help.

Volunteers helped direct traffic, pulled residents out of the local nursing home so they could be moved to Dean Clinic, brought supplies to the temporary shelters for evacuees, knocked on doors to get people out of the danger zone, and so much more.

Seriously, the list goes on and on about how people pulled together to make sure everyone was safe as the fires raged on.

The ripple effect?

Businesses gone, businesses closed, people displaced, and one person dead.

Patrick DePula, who owns Salvatore’s, said he couldn’t wait to get back into his building for clean up. They lost their front windows, along with most main street businesses, and knew he had a mess to clean up as no power + hot weather + a few days with all that food still sitting out on tables and the kitchen was sure to equal a large mess.

salvatores pizza of Sun Prairie after the gas explosion

They are a small business that is loosing income every hour they are closed and still want to help out. From their facebook post:

Dear Sun Prairie,

It’s been a rough week and I’m emotionally spent. Our restaurant is now behind a security fence, and can only be accessed with police and fire escort. They call it the hot zone. I can’t even access the building to board up the windows.
Everything is as it was when we evacuated on Tuesday. There is food and drinks on every table. No power. I can’t help but be reminded of the city of Pompeii. Walking through the restaurant I couldn’t help but notice little vignettes of the time before the earth shook and an explosion took the life of a good man.

A pizza and pasta dishes on a table. Glasses of wine. A half finished kids Mac and cheese next to a wiki stix project. The air is now beginning to be redolent of rotten seafood and warm garlic. And it seems filled with ghosts. Ultimately I was able to get items that employees left behind during the evacuation.

We poured not only our lives into this place, but also all of our resources. Seeing it broken, battered and abandoned is heart breaking. This is one of our busiest times of the year and we have no income at the moment. I’m being called every day for food donations and fundraisers, and…I don’t even have a functioning kitchen. But we want to help in any way we can. It’s in our blood!

So Saturday our whole staff will be cooking for first responders, and families. All of us are pitching in. We’re still trying to round up food even though Wisconsin beef, pork and chicken along with 800 lbs of cheese are going to waste in our powerless coolers. The amount of food we will toss is staggering to me. But again, we’re safe. It just pains me to not be able to put all of that to good use in the community. But we’ve got commitments for 200 lbs of heritage pork and sausage among other items. We will provide food and the labor to cook it to feed the bravest of people on Saturday.

We run on fairly slim margins at Sal’s as we proudly use local ingredients and insist upon a labor intensive hand-made food model. We don’t have conveyor belt ovens and bake directly on a brick hearth, with fire. It takes constant attention and skill in order to get good results, but that is the only way we know how to do it. Because of this our expenses are much higher than similar restaurants. And that is more than ok.

Anyway…what I’m trying to say is that we’re used to giving when asked. Freely and usually without limit. But it’s hard for us right now…and honestly? that isn’t a good feeling. If you’ve got a fundraiser in mind, we’d love to do it. We’d like nothing more than to help. But give us a week or so to hopefully clean up our mess and sort things out. We’re missing way more than half of our income right now but our expenses remain the same if not more.

Payroll is coming up, Insurance hasn’t kicked in, and we are still reeling from our flood damage that closed us for lunch for two weeks in May. We thought that was a particularly terrible disaster while experiencing it but compared to this? A mere inconvenience. Compared to what some other sun prairie business owners and residents are going through, our current plight is also.

At this time, we need to take care of our team, and frankly, this is a pretty scary moment for us. We don’t yet know when we can open again. I haven’t slept since Monday night and didn’t see my kids until today. Our tenants remain displaced and the thought of that is weighing on me. Thank you, friends, for your support. It means a lot to have heard from many of you. Your words of encouragement are appreciated. Once we’re operating we want to do something big…to help as many people as we can. But at this moment We can’t even bus our frozen-in-time tables. And we can’t wait to be back to doing what we do best. #sunprairiestrong

Most sincerely,
Patrick, Nichole, John, Madeliene Jon and everyone else at Sal’s.

The blocked off area of damaged buildings after the explosion

He is one of the luckier ones downtown as more buildings caught fire and some families lost their homes…one person lost his life. He still has a building to go back to, unlike the owner of the Glass Nickel, who is talking about rebuilding.

When Sun Prairie Exploded, help came in droves

Multiple response agencies, including the Red Cross, have shelters setup at local schools and churches for those who were in the half mile radius of the blast and not allowed back into their homes yet. The gas company was afraid that the leak was going to travel through the sewer lines and the possibility of more explosions.

They are still working their way through the evacuation area and slowly, people are being allowed to go back home or go into their homes and get things that are needed. (Just another reason to have a bug out bag…)

While I know our little town has made the National News, I can’t help but be proud of our little community.

  • Girl Scouts were doing lemonade stands and a brat fry to add to the fund for the family of the local firefighter who passed away, the sole casualty of this event. Cory Barr was a Captain of the local department and went back into the building that blew up – we can only guess that he wanted to make sure everyone got out. The State Governor ordered the flags to be half-mast for him.
  • Duane Sprecher, the owner of the local Culver’s, put together a bunch of meals for the first responders and people at shelters.
  • From surrounding communities, different first responders like Fire Fighters, EMTs, and Police officers have been coming to town to ask if there was anything they could do to help.
  • A collection drive has been established to help the families that lost everything. (Thank you, Kase, from Cherry Pie)

The explosion on Tuesday left people with almost nothing. They came home from work or sports practice or marching band rehearsal to discover they owned nothing but what they’re wearing. There’s been a lot of local help for shelter and food, but they’re running out of next-step stuff awfully fast.

Sunshine Place and CARDS Closet are low on toiletries, toothbrushes/toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo/conditioner. They’re low on fresh socks and underwear of all sizes, from toddlers up to young adults. Girls’ shorts & t-shirts from size 5 to 10, gently used, would be welcome and useful immediately, so if you have outgrown clothes, we can put them to use.

There really is too much amazing information to share with you – my heart overflows for these amazing people.

How can YOU help?

  • Donate to the various people affected by this,  here is a link to all of the current fund requests for the families, injured firefighters,  and the fund for the Barr family – he left behind a wife and twin 3-year-old daughters. Donate Here
  • Contact the Sunshine Place to see what they need: Website HERE
  • Pray. It’s amazing how something as easy to do as praying can make a difference.
When Sun Prairie Exploded - Barr Family photo

Yes, I am crying as I write this – just thinking of all the incredible people who turned out, with flags, along the route that Cory’s body was brought back to the town’s funeral parlor.

His babies will never get hugged by them again, people’s pets that have died while their owners had to leave them behind for the evacuation, families that lost everything and so much more. It’s going to be another life milestone for us all: when Sun Prairie Exploded.

Most Photos courtesy of Salvatore’s

Has something like this ever happened in YOUR town? How did they handle it?

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