Lake Wilson, MN- LAKE WILSON, Minn. (AP) – A propane explosion in Lake Wilson’s fire hall destroyed two adjoining fire halls and caused at least several million dollars in damage, mostly to the downtown of this southwestern Minnesota community.
No one was killed in the blast, which happened around 11:15 p.m. Monday, and no injuries were reported.
State Fire Marshal Steve Kellen said the fire hall was heated by a radiant heater. The system’s thermostat or igniter could have touched off the propane and caused the explosion, he said. More investigation was needed to determine the exact cause, Kellen said.
“They’re gonna need some help,” said Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who visited the city Tuesday afternoon. “For a small town, this was a lot of damage,” Pawlenty said.
Lake Wilson, with a population of about 300, is about 40 miles south of Marshall in Murray County. The blast was reported to have been heard and felt in towns at least 25 miles away.
Brady Johnson, 16, was watching television when he felt the explosion. “Everything just shook,” he said. Johnson and his father, who is on the fire department, realized the blast was in town. When the saw the fire hall, they knew it was bad.
“Me and my dad started looking for bodies,” Johnson said. “People were screaming. I remember someone screaming someone’s name. Neighbors looking for someone.”
The blast tore through downtown as it blew out windows in the MinnWest South bank, Cindy’s Country Cupboard grocery, the local American Legion building, post office, cafe and grain elevator. Houses in roughly a five-block area were also damaged as windows were shattered, shingles were ripped off and some roofs were lifted off houses and slammed down again. Much of the town was still without power Tuesday afternoon.
Items from damaged buildings were thrown about 800 feet in one direction and 400 feet in the other, said Ron Rahman, a fire marshal from Northfield. “This was a tremendous explosion,” Rahman said. “It took a lot of force to throw items that far.”
The visible damage was bad, but the worst damage couldn’t be seen from the street, city officials said. The rafters in the Legion building were severely damaged, councilman Myron Nelson said. The downtown Schmitz Grain Co. location and another several blocks to the west also sustained heavy damage, Nelson said.
“This is by far going to cost more and have longer-term results” than the tornado or a fire that destroyed downtown Lake Wilson in the 1900s, said Duane Hoeschen, an official with the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.