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In 2008, a downtown Oconomowoc church destroyed in an explosion

On April 2, 2008, a nearly 100-year-old church in downtown Oconomowoc was destroyed by a natural gas explosion that injured seven people.

The congregation of Oconomowoc’s First Baptist — former members of the Oconomowoc Norwegian Baptist Church — started meeting in 1895. The congregation purchased a former hotel at the Wisconsin Avenue location, and a church building was erected there in 1912.

The following information comes from numerous articles by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Oconomowoc Focus (now known as Lake Country Now) reporters.

Before the blast

Construction crews were working on a major reconstruction project near First Baptist Church at 301 W. Wisconsin Ave.

Reports from the time indicate a construction crew discovered a pressurized natural gas pipe beneath Worthington Street, which they incorrectly believed was no longer in use. As they attempted to move it, they damaged the pipe.

Natural gas began leaking from the ruptured pipe, resulting in a fire and explosion that reverberated through Oconomowoc for miles.

About an hour before the explosion, city officials had received a call about a smell of gas in front of the church. After the blast, witnesses also reported a strong smell of natural gas in the area.

Smoke is seen above First Baptist Church in downtown Oconomowoc after an explosion and fire swept through the area on April 2, 2008.

The explosion

Devastation struck just before 1:30 p.m. when the gas exploded. Several workers in the immediate area were knocked down or injured by flying debris. Four people were taken to Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital with minor injuries. A fifth was taken to Froedtert Memorial Hospital by Flight for Life. Two firefighters also received minor injuries.

The blaze from the explosion extended to homes west and south of the church. The blast was felt for miles, and workers in the downtown area poured out from offices, restaurants, retail shops and City Hall to find out the cause.

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2021-04-02 15:37:30

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