The cause for a June 11 explosion in Marengo’s 7th Circle neighborhood has been tracked to a gas leak but investigators from Northern Illinois Gas (NICOR) are searching for the source, whether a line leak, or an appliance malfunction in one of the homes. A fence cordon continues blocking access to the destruction area, largely for safety purposes, while insurance adjusters determine which homes are lost, uninhabitable, or repairable.

Evidence that includes gas appliances such as hot water tanks, ovens, and pipe fittings have been removed from the site to a separate location, by NICOR investigators. Previously, the Marengo Fire Protection District, and the state of Illinois Fire Marshall, had canvassed for their respective data-gathering efforts. Fire district officials were also guiding insurance company representatives through uninhabitable homes, as a precaution.

“The source is still under investigation, where and how it originated, even though we know the devastation was caused by gas,” said Bob Bradbury, the fire protection district’s Chief. “NICOR is basically heading the overall investigation, at this point, since it is their infrastructure. Appliances that were in some of the destroyed homes were taken out for testing to see if the cause for the explosion came from a unit.”

On June 11, at approximately 4:50 a.m., the 500 block of 7th Circle suffered a gas explosion that destroyed two homes, set four others afire, left nineteen residences uninhabitable, and damaged more than fifty other homes throughout the area. The early morning catastrophe generated a Level 3 code on the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) calling for assistance from personnel from counties and municipalities, as well as WI-based emergency response teams. “There were two people that received burn injuries, and were in a house, next to one that exploded… we’re extremely lucky there weren’t more,” said Bradbury. “They were taken to Woodstock Centegra Hospital, and treated. They’re doing fine, I’m told.”

While NICOR and the Illinois Fire Marshall’s office complete their separate investigations, the sheer scope of the physical damage and displacement of families is staggering. The night of the incident, and the next day, found Mayor John Koziol in the City Hall, with other staff, trying to coordinate relief efforts, holding a town hall session to provide information and answer resident questions, along with just listening to community members.

“What we can do, we will do,” said Koziol. “We worked with the Marengo Area OutReach Enterprises (MORE Center), a non-profit group, to help victims that were impacted by this emergency. They accepted donations, and goods…our community really came together to help each other through fundraisers, and assistance. There were some complaints that people were unable to get their insurance companies to act, and we referred them to that specific state department.

The state of Illinois Department of Insurance (www.insurance.illinois. gov) is fielding queries from residents, and responding accordingly to contact insurance providers.

A June 24 fundraiser helped the family of Marengo Community high School wrestling coach Tim Keefer, one of the many effected by the incident that lost their home and possessions. An impromptu wrestling tournament held in Homer Barry gymnasium at the campus brought out more 200 athletes, from around McHenry County, and represented all age brackets. Donations raised through the event were estimated to be approximately $5,500.

"Most of the impacted families have made other arrangements for living spaces, with rentals or staying with friends,” said Bradbury. “There were about nineteen families, at the time.”

Koziol noted, “We’re moving forward. This is our community.”

A replacement and total damage assessment cost has yet to be calculated.

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