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911 audio released in Harvard garage explosion: “He asked me to get the torch”

Audio from six 911 calls of the Harvard garage explosion in August has been released after two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests were filed by Lake & McHenry County Scanner, after the first one got denied.

On August 27 at 7:30 p.m., an “explosive” garage fire in Harvard caused $250,000 in damage and left a man with serious burn injuries.

Sheriff’s deputies and firefighters were called to 20205 State Line Road in Harvard, near Route 14, for a report of a structure fire with a possible explosion.

When first responders arrived, they found a detached garage that was fully engulfed in flames. According to initial police radio traffic, there were reports of possible pipe bombs and gun powder in or around the garage, as well as the possibility that the fire was a suicide attempt. However, officials would not comment on who called 911 or where those reports came from.

Photo by Alex Vucha.
Photo by Alex Vucha.

Responding firefighters initially staged away from the scene and requested McHenry County Sheriff’s deputies to approach first and secure the scene. Within minutes, fire crews were cleared to proceed in.

William T. Burger, 54, suffered second and third-degree burns in the fire. He was transported to the intensive care unit at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford after the fire.

Burger was alone in the garage outside of his residence when the fire started.

The Northwest Herald interviewed one of the residents, Jonathan Bega, who lives inside the adjacent multi-apartment home. Bega was working on his own car outside the garage when he saw it catch fire.

“I ran to try and take [Burger] out of the garage, but we couldn’t go in because he had locked the door before the fire started. We tried to pull down the door on the other side and when he came out, he had bad burns everywhere,” Bega told the Northwest Herald.

Bega also said that the fire sounded explosive. “The fire began quickly. I don’t know if it was gasoline, but it was something. I don’t really know if it was an accident or if he did it on purpose,” Bega continued to tell the Northwest Herald.

When the wife of Burger was interviewed by the Northwest Herald she denied the claims that it was a suicide attempt and called it “a total accident”.

However, according to the fire investigation report, one of the residents told investigators that her daughter told her that Burger and his wife were arguing before the fire started. She also said that Burger was suicidal in the past.

On August 30, three days after the fire, Lake and McHenry County Scanner filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the 911 calls from the dispatch center, North East Regional Communications Center (NERCOM), who answered the 911 calls the night of the fire. However, six days later the request was denied. Officials cited that the 911 calls, if released, would interfere with the ongoing investigation into the fire.

On November 2, Lake and McHenry County Scanner once again filed another Freedom of Information Act request with NERCOM dispatch center for the audio recordings of the 911 calls. The request was granted and the 911 audio calls were released to Lake and McHenry County Scanner.

It was soon revealed who told 911 dispatchers that the fire was a suicide attempt and that Burger may have explosives. Among the six 911 calls was a 15-minute call, which was placed by a 14-year-old named Patrick.

“Everything’s gone,” Patrick cried to the 911 dispatcher.

“We have neighbors that make my neighbor mad, he asked me to go get the torch, or lighter/flamethrower, or whatever, and he locked himself in and blew himself, he lit the gas can on fire and busted through the glass door and laid down on the ground for a minute or two. He tried to do that [hurt himself] like six times already in the past year,” Patrick began to explain to the dispatcher.

The garage was a total loss which is estimated at around $250,000. The Harvard Fire Protection District requested the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office to assist with the fire investigation.

When investigators interviewed Burger while he was in the hospital, they said that he was “vague and evasive in his replies” about how the fire started. Burger claimed that he was in the garage and tripped over a bucket containing parts soaked in gasoline, and that the gasoline spilled and caused the fire. He also said that he was smoking at the time and that there was an extension cord near the spilled gasoline.

When investigators asked him how the fire started because of that, Burger said he didn’t know and that “a fire just started.”

Investigators have since ruled the cause of the fire as “undetermined,” saying that the cause of the fire is “unknown,” according to the fire investigation report.

Below are all six of the 911 calls placed the night of the fire.

All Released 911 Calls (Calls 1 – 6):


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