EAGLE, Wis. - A five-alarm fire burned and explosions rang out Thursday, May 19 at Summerset Marine Construction in Eagle.
The explosion erupted around 7:45 a.m. It took firefighters and sheriff's deputies two minutes to race to the scene, and just seconds to know they'd need more help.
"It sounded like a bomb went off," said resident Amanda Neu.
There were multiple explosions as the fire burned and first responders arrived. One person told FOX6 News that they heard an explosion from more than seven miles away.
"We know that there was a substantial amount of fire, as well as explosions, that were occurring that the time that those 911 calls were being made," said Western Fire District Assistant Chief Matt Haerter.
Explosion, fire at Summerset Marine Construction in Eagle
There were 24 people inside the building at the time, all of whom have been accounted for. Six people – three Summerset Marine employees and three firefighters – were injured.
One of the employees was seriously injured and taken to the hospital to have surgery on his leg. One firefighter was taken to the hospital for minor injuries. Others who were injured were treated at the scene.
Thursday's heat and humidity didn't help either; three firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion.
"It became an issue of heat. It was more so their protective equipment, and the environmental factors that we're dealing with here," Haerter said.
Just blocks from the scene, resident Gloria Dickinson said she is grateful no one died because, in Eagle, neighbors are like family.
"The property, you can replace, but you can't replace lives. And that was the biggest, scariest thing to me," she said.
Response and investigation
A massive black cloud of smoke billowed from the building. From above, video showed the roof buckled – caving in at spots – as the smoke seeped through.
Officials advised those living within a mile of the factory to keep their windows closed due to the smoke that was still being generated from the fire.
Haerter said about 100 firefighters responded to the scene after the explosion and fire was reported. More than 30 departments, including some as far away as Kenosha County, provided assistance.
Tanker trucks delivered water to the scene. Crews also pumped water out of area lakes to assist in the firefighting effort.
"The vast majority of the United States does not have fire hydrants, except in major cities. And when you get down into larger cities, when you get down into suburban areas, even towns that – 10,000-15,000, even Eagle is a good example – you’re going to have them," said Haerter. "Then as soon as you get outside of town, you’re not going to have that presence."
While some tending to the blaze focused only on getting water to the scene, other firefighters climbed ladders with hoses – trying to spray down the flames fueled partially by the chemicals and other materials inside the facility.
The Kettle Moraine Fire District is the lead investigator, working with the Wisconsin State Fire Marshal and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Foul play is not suspected.
"It has nothing to do with anything nefarious where you should think that somebody is trying to hide something," Haerter said of the federal agency's involvement. "It’s just purely the ability to be able to use a well-trained and well-equipped asset, very, very geographically close.
Haerter said the ATF investigators are nearby – around a 15-minute response time. He said it will take some time to finish the investigation, maybe a week or more.