Firefighters prepare to burn Beaver Dam apartment

March 13, 2018 GMT

BEAVER DAM — Residents of an apartment complex that was the site of a fatal explosion last week will only be able to watch Wednesday as the building and their belongings are destroyed by fire.

Some 20 area fire departments will be on hand to assist with the controlled burn of the building, where an explosion March 5 blew out the windows of an apartment at 109 Knaup Drive, killing the occupant and led to evacuation of nearby apartment buildings.

The body of the man who died in the blast was removed before a planned detonation of leftover explosive materials in the apartment was conducted March 7. A third explosion March 8 led to concerns about the integrity of the building.

Beaver Dam Police Chief John Kreuziger said authorities still have not positively identified the body found in the building.

“There is no known link to terrorism at this time, but we are still investigating,” Kreuziger said.

Emergency personnel and local officials have been working on a plan for the building for the last eight days. It even put a damper on the Beaver Dam Fire Department escorting the state championship Beaver Dam High School girls basketball team into town Sunday.

“We were on our way, but then someone smelled smoke at the 109 Knaup Drive address,” Beaver Dam Fire Chief Alan Mannel said.

Residents of the other five buildings in the Village Glen apartments complex have been allowed to return home after the second, planned explosion, but they were told during a meeting Sunday that they would need to evacuate again Wednesday for the controlled burn.

Mannel said plans for Wednesday’s burn have not been finalized, but it will begin at 9 a.m. Both ends of the building will be set on fire and the building will be allowed to burn as long as possible.

“The heat is what is needed to degrade the chemicals,” Mannel said.

The firefighters will keep close watch on buildings and drones that can detect heat will be used as a safeguard, Mannel said.

The smoke that is created by the fire will be no more hazardous than the smoke from other fires, Mannel said.

There will be a temporary flight restriction for 2.5 miles by 1,000 feet around the apartment complex.

“Civilian drones should be grounded on Wednesday for the safety of everyone involved,” Kreuziger said.

Roads will be closed at 9 a.m. within the area of Knaup Drive, North Spring Street from Woodland Drive to Industrial Drive East and Industrial Drive East to Highway 151 (but not including Highway 151).

The area will affect the access to businesses on North Spring Street that do not have access to a secondary driveway into the area, including Kohl’s department store, Aldi’s Grocery Store and Taco Bell. Other businesses such as Mills Fleet Farm have a secondary entrance that can be used.

The Beaver Dam Police Department Facebook page will be updated when the roads are opened up and when residents are allowed back in their homes.

“We are anticipating it will happen at some point in the evening,” Mannel said.

After the fire, the ash will be tested for explosives and other contaminants, Mannel said.

Mannel said there was only one other similar incident in the country like this that occurred several years ago in California.

“This is very atypical,” Mannel said. “It is new ground for all of us.”

Search warrants were filed in Dodge County Circuit Court on March 5 and the findings were sealed. According to a document on file with Dodge County Courts, they are sealed for the protection of the investigation so as to not alert potential co-actors of the ongoing investigation and its findings.

The Beaver Dam City Council approved a resolution Monday night declaring a state of disaster for the 109 Knaup Drive building and asking for county and state assistance.