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Operator charged with starting fire and explosion at Lyndon Station bar

A Lyndon Station bar operator has been charged with starting the fire and explosion at the bar at the beginning of the month.

According to a release from Lyndon Station Police Department chief Jeremy Bonikowske, 43-year-old Heath L. Fjorden is facing five felony charges stemming from the incident at Beagle's Bar and Grill, which Fjorden operates and is purchasing through land contract, on Sept. 1.

The charges filed in Juneau County Circuit Court are:

  • Arson of building with intent to defraud (Class C)
  • Two counts of property damage by means of explosives (Class C)
  • Two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety (Class F)

If convicted on all counts, Fjorden could receive a maximum of 145 years in prison.

According to the criminal complaint, based on evidence found at the scene, investigators deemed that the person responsible was seriously injured in starting the fire/explosion. Fjorden was located around 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 1 by authorities at the home of his ex-father-in-law and his wife in the town of Germantown with severe burns to his hands and arms and considerable burns to his face, back, and legs, for which he is still receiving treatment.

Investigators found clothing belonging to Fjorden that smelled of gasoline. After being transported to Mile Bluff Medical Center in Mauston, Fjorden denied being at Beagle's the night before and stated his injuries were from a grill fire at his home in Baraboo. Law enforcement found no evidence to corroborate Fjorden's statement at the Baraboo home.

Fjorden had allegedly lost his liquor license at his bar in Portage and he was facing a custody battle with his ex-wife with whom he is going through a divorce battle. A former Beagle's bartender who spoke with Bonikowske expressed concern of Fjorden doing something to the bar.

Juneau County Sheriff's Office Det. Jay Greeno and Lt. Zac Board began walking around the scene at 3:00 a.m. on Sept. 1. Board pointed out the bowed out walls on the south end of the main floor of the bar. Greeno smelled smoke and gasoline and noticed scattered debris on the sidewalk outside the bar, as well as fans that Lyndon Station Fire personnel placed at open doors to blow smoke and other vapors out of the facility.

Greeno then notified the Wisconsin State Fire Marshal's Office of the situation after he discovered two gasoline cans and possibly combustible fluid on the floor in the basement of the bar.

Bonikowske was informed by Greeno and Lyndon Station Fire Chief Troy Madland of concerning information regarding Fjorden, with Madland having heard the possibility of Fjorden burning the building down on Aug. 31.

Madland shared contact information of the former Beagle's bartender with Bonikowske. The Lyndon Station Police Chief then called the bartender, who told him that fellow bartenders felt things had "not been right" during the past few weeks, according to the complaint.

Two residents in apartments located in the same building as Beagle's reportedly heard a loud bang noise at 1:00 a.m. on Sept. 1, with one of them, named "JMK" in the complaint, also reporting that the building shook. The other, named "JWE", observed smoke by the wall in his bathroom, his living room floor buckled, and a fan knocked over prior to reporting the fire.

JWE reported that the basement door had been left open two days prior to the incident.

JMK listed several unusual recent happenings at Beagle's. During the morning on Aug. 28, he unlocked the bar door knob for an employee and noticed a gas smell, which turned out to be a kitchen gas leak that closed the bar for the day before the leaking hose, which he took a photo of, was fixed on Aug. 29.

The next day, JMK was awakened by a gas smell in his apartment. He then discovered the door knob locked again and stated that he and Fjorden were the last ones to leave the bar that night and knew they did not lock the knob. He opened the door and noticed a much stronger gas smell than that of Aug. 28.

The source of the smell, according to the complaint, was a roughly 3-inch wide gap between the inlet pipe from the floor and the grill, where the pipe was dumping gas into the bar. JMK took a photo of the pipe.

Juneau County Sheriff's Office deputies, the State Fire Marshal's Office, and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Fire or Explosives (ATF) executed a search warrant Greeno was approved for. The agencies located evidence of arson that included the gas cans and gas-soaked rags, along with a red substance consistent with blood in handprints, as well as a wig.

Law enforcement and fire personnel unsuccessfully attempted to contact Fjorden immediately following the explosion, both by phone and at his Baraboo residence.

A bench warrant for Fjorden has been issued. He was treated for burns while awaiting the charges while being detained by the Juneau County Sheriff's Office.

Beagle's Bar and Grill remains closed indefinitely following the explosion.

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