Freeport, IL- Officials from the Freeport Fire Department and assisting agencies have determined there was no foul play involved in Sunday’s fatal house fire at 235 N. Whistler Ave.

Freeport Fire Chief Kevin Countryman said the blaze was likely caused by a natural gas leak inside the home. He emphasized that the leak likely led to a major explosion.

“There was some sort of violent occurrence,” Countryman said. “There were windows forcefully blown away from the structure. Some were blown out with such force that it actually broke windows on houses to the north (of the site).”

Countryman also noted that the force from the apparent explosion, which took place at around 2 p.m. on Sunday, had moved a kitchen wall and temporarily lifted the roof off the structure.

The Stephenson County Coroner’s Office confirmed Monday afternoon that the fire took the life of 55-year-old Rick Hirata. The fatality marked the first fire-related death in Freeport since July 2003, Countryman said.

Collaborative Investigation

The Freeport Fire Department has received assistance from the regional Illinois State Police Crime Scene Investigator and the regional State Fire Marshal Arson Investigator throughout this case.

Investigators based their analysis on a number of factors, including interviews conducted with neighbors and examinations of the building’s interior and exterior.

Countryman said investigators found an uncapped natural gas line inside the home at 235 N. Whistler Ave., that was not connected to any appliance. The fire chief added that the gas leak was “no fault of the utility.”

Freeport Fire Inspector Clyde Butler said Tuesday that conversations with nearby residents revealed a lingering concern about the emission of natural gas prior to Sunday’s fire.

“During the period of almost a week (before the fire), people were complaining of smelling natural gas,” he said.

While the gas company was contacted about the odor, the Freeport Fire Department was unaware of the natural gas concerns prior to Sunday’s fire.