Cause of explosive Big Foot garage fire 'undetermined'

BIG FOOT – The cause of an explosive garage fire in Big Foot that left a man in intensive care has been ruled “undetermined.”

McHenry County Sheriff’s Deputy Sandra Rogers said investigators closed the case after reviewing evidence and interviewing residents.

Bill Burger, 54, was alone Aug. 27 in a detached garage outside his home – which is part of a multi-unit apartment at 20205 State Line Road, north of Harvard and near the Big Foot Inn – when the fire started, said Barbara Burger, his wife.

Police radio reports initially said that the fire was intentional and a suicide attempt, and that there possibly were pipe bombs and gunpowder in or around the garage.

“At this time, there is not enough probable cause” to show a crime was committed, Rogers said Wednesday.

The Harvard Fire Protection District was called about 7:30 p.m. to the scene and found the garage in flames, Chief Steve Harter said. The garage was directly behind the apartment building. Various items in the garage – such as motorcycles, lawn mowers and four-wheelers – were destroyed.

Police searched for explosives after the fire because of a call they received when the fire started, according to a case report the Northwest Herald obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

One resident told Harter that Bill Burger had 10 pounds of gun powder he buried behind the garage to build pipe bombs and fireworks, and the resident was unsure whether the powder still was there or had been dug up, according to the report.

After a search, investigators did not find any evidence of explosives on the property.

Bill Burger was taken to OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford with second- and third-degree burns on his arms, hands, head, back of his neck and on the side of his body, Barbara Burger said.

He has since been released from the hospital, one resident told the Northwest Herald.

Rogers said she did not know his condition.

While speaking with detectives, Bill Burger said he was in the garage and tripped over a bucket containing parts soaked in gasoline. The gasoline spilled, and a fire started.

Investigators wrote that Bill Burger was very vague in his responses, but said he was smoking at the time, and there was an extension cord near the spilled gasoline.

“I asked him how that started a fire, and all William could state was that he didn’t know and that a fire just started,” investigator Derick Waters wrote.

One resident was taken to Mercy Harvard Hospital after having a panic attack because of the fire. She said the garage had several gas cans because one of the apartment’s residents owns a lawn care business.

She said Bill Burger had either tripped or his knee gave out when he fell to the ground, and she saw sparks before the fire began, according to the report.

Michael Klingenberg, owner of the apartment building and garage, said in the report that the garage was not in good shape and he considered knocking it down in the past, but he kept it because Bill Burger used it as a work space.

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