Wednesday, November 10, 2010


The pre-dawn blast that utterly destroyed a home in Sun Prairie early yesterday morning, killed one person and badly injured two others, was more than scary. It was almost terrifying. I’ve never seen a home so pulverized and debris scattered so far from a single blast.

As the sun came up and the local TV stations beamed live shots of the scene, I was astonished at what was revealed in the light of day. And having worked a few home explosion stories in my day, I know the TV shots don’t really do justice to the horror of it all….the sounds, the sights, the smells of the aftermath of a huge natural gas explosion.

Neighbors told the TV reporters they heard an initial, deep rumbling, and then a huge blast that in many cases literally blew them out of bed. Reporters, hours after the 3:30 AM blast, said they could still smell gas in the area. Insulation from the walls and roof of the home was blown to smithereens and covered everything for several hundred feet, hanging in trees, scattered on the ground like snow, and dotting the entire landscape. Not one wall was left standing and the entire structure was leveled. One of the doors was thrown several hundred feet down the road. The structural two-by-fours were turned into matchsticks.

The natural gas pipeline leak and explosion in a San Francisco neighborhood (San Bruno) in September destroyed 53 homes and damaged 120 more, and created a firestorm that raged for nearly a full day. The blast in Sun Prairie destroyed the home, but did shockingly little damage to the neighboring homes and did not create a tower of fire.

The scene in Sun Prairie is a stark reminder of what can happen when you have a gas leak. We don’t yet know all the facts of the story or the circumstances of what led to the explosion, and may never have the full picture. The folks in San Bruno complained for days about the smell of natural gas, but the people who lived in that home in Sun Prairie may never have had a clue that anything was wrong.

After you’ve covered one of these horrific events as a news reporter, you learn never to ignore the warning smell of natural gas. A lot of folks in Sun Prairie now know first-hand it’s not a warning to be taken lightly.


  1. Colonel,

    When I was still married to my first wife, we were awakened in the middle of an Oshkosh winter night by an explosion that rattled the windows. I threw on my bathrobe and hustled down the street and around the corner to find the source: a house that was now burning. I gathered with a few neighbors shivering in our slippers. It turns out that the man living there had blown up his own house. His wife and four children got out before he lit the match in the kitchen where he had turned the gas on full without lighting any of the burners. He came running out of the house, badly burned (I did not see this). He was taken to the burn center in Milwaukee but he died there.

    I don't mean to do one-upmanship here; I simply want to say "amen" to your piece.

    The Town Crank