Remembering a captain while rebuilding a community: Two years later, Sun Prairie shows strength amid new challenges

SUN PRAIRIE, Wis.– Most people in and around Sun Prairie know exactly where they were two years ago. Just after 6:15 p.m. on July 10th, 2018, crews hit a gas line while working downtown. 40 minutes later, a building-leveling explosion erupted, sending a massive ball of fire into the air.

The community quickly learned one of its own, Captain Cory Barr, had died in the fire that followed.

Now, two years later, Sun Prairie leaders are still working to rebuild their community and remember their captain. Tonight, the city will unveil a new statue and memorial for Barr and all the firefighters who responded. A portion of Angelo Street near the fire station will also be renamed as Barr Street.

These are just the latest steps in what’s been a difficult and lengthy rebuilding process, further challenged by the ongoing pandemic.

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Through it all, Mayor Paul Esser says resilience has defined his community. Esser explained that the 2018 explosion taught him how important that is and how much of it his community already has. He said that both two years ago and today, he’s witnessed the incredible bravery of Sun Prairie first responders and everyday people working for the best of their communities without asking why.

However, Esser said he has found one stark difference between the coronavirus pandemic and the 2018 explosion: time. The July explosion was a single event that caused all of its destruction in a few hours, leaving the community to deal with its aftermath. The pandemic has been an ongoing crisis, causing the community to grapple with what’s happening now, while remaining unsure of what could happen next.

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Meanwhile, Sun Prairie continues to rebuild. Plans for the downtown area include new homes, apartment complexes, a new building at the explosion site, and a new entryway to downtown Sun Prairie. Many projects have been delayed by COVID-19.