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Underground fire near I-794 work causes evacuation (UPDATE)

(Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Firefighters respond to Milwaukee’s Third Ward on Tuesday after road construction crews reported seeing an underground fire. (Staff photos by Kevin Harnack)

Construction on the Interstate 794 reconstruction project in Milwaukee resumed around 4 p.m. Tuesday after a late morning underground fire stalled work.

Ray Groth, acting deputy chief for the Milwaukee Fire Department, said a construction crew reported an underground fire at 11:32 a.m. Tuesday while driving piles on the project. Chicago-based Walsh Construction Co. is the general contractor on the project.

He said workers were concerned they had hit a natural gas line, but there is no gas odor at the scene. Cathy Schulze, We Energies spokeswoman, said the company does not believe one of its lines was hit.

The fire department evacuated the nearby Milwaukee Public Market as a precaution, Groth said, and restricted traffic on North Broadway, North Water Street, East Clybourn Street and East St. Paul Avenue.

Assistant Fire Chief Daniel Lipski said the department believes the crew hit an underground pocket of methane gas. According to the Fire Department, the fire is now out and no gas is being released.

Lipski said the contractors are required to monitor the pile site for gas, have a fire extinguisher on hand, ensure ventilation of the area and report any additional fires. He said he recommends but does not require similar monitoring for other piles the contractor will install.

The market remained closed Tuesday and will reopen Wednesday.

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

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About Beth Kevit

Beth Kevit is the Milwaukee city beat reporter and also covers real estate. She can be reached at [email protected] or 414-225-1820.

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