Milwaukee Public Market evacuated following underground explosion, fire

CREATED Apr 22, 2014 - UPDATED: Apr 22, 2014

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  • Image by Michelle Fiore

  • Image by Michelle Fiore

MILWAUKEE -  Milwaukee fire officials told Public Market they could reopen late Tuesday afternoon, some four hours after being evacuated as a precaution due to a gas scare outside.  

But, the Public Market decided to just stay closed for the day. They will reopen again Wednesday morning. All this happened after construction crews on the vacant lot next door called for help just before 12 Noon. Public Market employees evacuated in a hurry.

"They didn't really have time to grab anything," said Amanda Davis who works nearby.
 
Paul Schwartz works for The Public Market.
 
"We were just about to get our lunch crowd, so it wasn't as busy as it could've been, so it made it a lot easier for us to be able to filter people out," said Schwartz.
 
The problem was strictly on the neighboring construction site, just off I-794. Crews digging pilings some 90 feet deep found something wrong, a slow burning flame. Firefighters quickly ruled out natural gas for a few reasons. It was not a high pressure leak and it made no hissing sound.
 
"We have the underground gas main maps and we've been in consult with them, and by our estimation, we're at least 40 feet from a gas line," said Assistant Fire Chief Dan Lipski, Milwaukee fire department.
 
Police meanwhile, stopped traffic from going down Water Street just off Clybourn Tuesday afternoon. The Hazmat team joined firefighters. In the end, they determined there is no public safety risk.
 
"We have monitored every sewer grade. We have monitored every manhole cover. We have been in and out of buildings around the neighborhood. We have set up detection both in the air and subsurface and at this point in time, we have absolutely no toxic and or flammable products being released," said Assistant Chief Lipski.
 
Construction crews were again allowed to get on the scene. The Public Market is expected to be open again Wednesday morning for business.  Fire officials say there is no more gas coming out of the ground.  Again, it was not natural gas, and was likely methane.