Rockton officials have set up a hotline for residents to ask urgent questions about the chemical plant fire, which continues to burn in the area on Tuesday morning.
If you have any questions regarding the fire, the resident can call (815) 972-7300 or email [email protected]
“We recognize that many of the questions people are asking, we will not have immediate answers,” said Winnebago County Public Health Administrator Dr Sandra Martel. “We therefore intend to develop frequently asked questions and a list of answers throughout the day.”
The Chemtool lubricants production plant, located at 1165 Prairie Hill Road in Rockton, Winnebago County, caught fire around 7 a.m. Monday morning. Nearly 24 hours later, a cloud of smoke still rises from the building as a fire continues to burn.
About 70 Chemtool workers on site evacuated the building before firefighters arrived, Rockton Fire Protection District Chief Kirk Wilson told a press conference, with no injuries being reported. reported among employees. Wilson said a firefighter suffered what appeared to be minor injuries, but was able to walk to an ambulance and was taken to an area hospital for treatment.
The fire forced an evacuation of the area, with an evacuation area a mile radius from the plant.
As of Tuesday morning, residents still in this area remain under the mandatory evacuation order, and residents within a three-mile radius have been asked to wear masks, as authorities warn the blaze could continue for days. .
Wilson said crews had stopped using water to extinguish the flames to avoid an “environmental nightmare” of product runoff into the nearby Rock River – meaning the fire could continue to burn for days.
“At this point the building is pretty much consumed, we think it will be a multi-day event for all of this product to burn,” Wilson said. “And that’s the best thing we can do right now.”
“The bottom line is that we don’t want an environmental nightmare to happen and, and the reason we can, that we would cause that, is through the use of waterways,” he said. he continued. “So we stopped the water supply operations at this point, we stopped the removal, we felt it was in our best interest to let this product burn.”
“The Rock River, which is a very large waterway, is about 300 meters west of this place. So that’s one thing that really concerns us, is product runoff into the river, so we don’t want that to happen. . So at this point it’s best that we just let this product burn, ”Wilson added.
The plant, which produces more industrial grease than any other plant in the country, is home to dozens of chemicals, some of which, including lead and sulfuric acid, are potentially harmful to neighboring areas.
Smoke, billowing from the plant from the explosion, could be forced down due to the temperature inversion, and some residents fear the particles could adversely affect health.
Jilly Graciana lives just a quarter of a mile from the factory. She heard an explosion around 7 a.m. Monday.
“With explosions and so on, you would have embers falling from the sky that would still be on fire,” she said. “Since we’re going through a drought right now, I wanted to make sure it didn’t land on the building and it didn’t land on the grass. “
“You can also kind of taste some of the chemicals if you’re not wearing a mask,” Graciana said. “It was like that before.
The mother of four dropped off her children at her in-laws’ home, then helped evacuate elderly neighbors to the Red Cross shelter, which was set up at Roscoe Middle School.
The Red Cross, along with the Salvation Army, Illinois National Guard, and a number of state and federal agencies and departments, immediately mobilized after the fire broke out.
“When we first got the dispatch call, I thought ‘this is going to be pretty big’,” said Leslie Luther, site manager.
The Red Cross has set up more than 100 camp beds if residents have to stay overnight. About 30 of them accepted their offer, and although Luther is pleased with how quickly aid was mobilized, she still says she is shocked, as she has never seen anything like it. ‘fire.
“There are so many uncertainties when you get this call,” she said. ” You are not sure. “
It is not yet clear when residents of the area will be allowed to return home. The Illinois EPA is installing air quality monitors in the community to check for harmful pollutants, but as long as the fire continues to burn, authorities are reluctant to allow people to return home.
“I understand that a lot of people are wondering when they will be able to return home. Right now we don’t have that answer, ”Wilson said.