Burning debris from chemical plant explosion causing grass fires

Burning Debris From Chemical Plant Explosion Causing Grass Fires

ROCKTON, Ill. —  Authorities have responded to several smaller fires ignited by burning chunks of debris coming from the site of a chemical plant explosion in northern Illinois.

“For the most part, any debris from the sky is building material debris,” said Rockton Fire Department Chief Kirk Wilson.

Large flames and dark plumes of smoke covered the air near the Chemtool Inc. plant in Rockton, Ill. The plant makes manufactures grease and makes industrial lubricants. It caught on fire around 7 a.m. on Monday.

The explosion sent bits of debris into yards and streets south of the plant. Wilson said cardboard and pallets are stored in one of the buildings on fire. He does not believe the materials are toxic.

“I think for the most part they are OK,” Wilson said.

People living within a one-mile radius of the plant have been asked to evacuate. Around 1,000 people are affected by this, according to village officials.

Wilson believes reports of spot fires could increase once people are able to return home. Specific crews have been assigned to assist with any smaller fires reported.

“Naturally if there are any spot fires that occur because of this give us a call and we will come out and take care of things,” Wilson said.

Firefighters from surrounding towns are assisting the Rockton Fire Department. Around 40 to 45 agencies from northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin are involved, Chief Wilson said.

One firefighter suffered minor injuries. No other injuries have been reported.

“Everything is kind of raw right now,” Wilson said.

There are two Chemtool plant locations in Rockton. The explosion occurred at the facility on Prairie Hill Road.  Around 70 people are employed at this plant location.

A spokesperson for the company said all employees on site were “safe and accounted for.”

“They are a huge employer here in town. And it’s going to affect a lot of families,” said Rockton Mayor John Peterson.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation at this time. A spokesperson for the company said they are working with local authorities to determine what happened.

Authorities believe the fire will be a several day event given the materials involved. They are letting the fire burn itself off, rather than risk a chemical runoff spilling into the nearby Rock River, according to CBS Chicago.

Crews have determined there is no danger to air quality at ground level, CBS reports.

It’s unclear when those evacuated will be able to return home. Roscoe Middle School has been opened as an evacuation zone.