Wis. Water Tower Catches Fire

MADISON, Wis. --

Authorities evacuated some residents living near a water tower that was on fire Friday afternoon.

At about 2:15 p.m., fire crews were called to the water tower in the 2700 block of Prairie Road, near Huegel Elementary School, on a report of a fire. Units arriving at the scene said they saw black smoke venting from the top of the water tower.

Homes within a one-block radius were evacuated for about an hour because there was concern that the tower could collapse, WISC-TV reported.

"The initial evacuation that was conducted was the immediate houses around the tower until they could determine if there was any damage or weaknesses in the water tower from the fire and heat," said Eric Dahl, of the Madison Fire Department.

The fire has been extinguished. Firefighters said that because the fire was inside the tower and they had limited access, it was difficult to reach the blaze with hose lines. But crews said they were able to get the fire under control in about 40 minutes.

The Madison Water Utility said the water tower was empty and there is no danger to drinking water.

The Madison Water Utility said three contractors were painting and doing maintenance inside of the tower when a spark from a welding torch ignited the coating covering some cell phone communication cables inside the structure.

All three workers were able to escape. Paramedics treated one worker for smoke inhalation and transported him to an area hospital. Authorities said his injuries were minor, and he was expected to be released Friday night.

Personnel from the Madison Water Utility and the City Engineering Department have deemed the tower structurally sound. An engineer from the tower's manufacturer will arrive as early as Monday and will conduct a full inspection and determine if the tower needs any repairs, WISC-TV reported.

Dahl said damage to the cables and paint on the tower is estimated at $400,000.

The city said it will work with the contractor's insurance company to collect any damages.

Evacuated Residents Return To Homes

Dahl said evacuated residents were allowed back into their homes as of 4 p.m. Friday, after the fire was extinguished and personnel from the Madison Water Utility and the City Engineering Department inspected the water tower.

Many residents in the area just started to make their way home at 5 p.m., and some said they didn't know what had happened.

But those who were home were evacuated and said they stayed calm.

Residents were first told to stay away from the tower, and then police officers went door to door asking residents to evacuate within a one-block radius because of the threat, police said.

Some residents said they didn't have time to do anything but get their children and leave. They were first allowed back to their homes to get things they needed, such as their vehicles, before getting to go back for good.

Tracy Elmes, who lives next to the tower, said she was doing some yard work when she heard noises coming from the tower and smelled smoke. She said she left her home with only some papers from work and her cell phone.

At Huegel Elementary School, which is down the block from the tower, the principal was outside after school to make sure students and parents didn't go into the area near the tower, WISC-TV reported.

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