Orderly evacuation for residents within one kilometer
ROCKTON – A massive chemical fire that darkened the Rock River Valley skies on Monday with plumes of black smoke that could be seen up to two counties away could burn for days.
No less than 175 firefighters from 45 different fire departments responded to the rapid blast caused by the wind in Chemtool in Rockton.
News of the chemical fire spread to Springfield, where Governor JB Pritzker activated the State Emergency Operations Center to mobilize emergency response personnel and operational facilities to monitor the fire and environmental impact in Winnebago County.
Chemtool, a manufacturer of greases and lubricants, is located at 1165 Prairie Hill Road.
About 70 Chemtool employees and about 150 homes within a one-mile radius of the plant were evacuated as the manufacturing plant caught fire.
No employees or residents of the area were injured, Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson said at a press conference Monday morning. A firefighter was rushed from the scene to a hospital with respiratory problems. He was treated and released.
The fire broke out around 7 a.m.
Explosions could be seen and heard throughout the morning, sending ash and debris into the yards beyond the mandatory evacuation zone.
The Rockton Fire Department has ordered the evacuation of all residents and businesses within a mile of the plant and advised traffic to avoid the area.
Roscoe Middle School, 6121 Elevator Road in Roscoe, was used as an evacuation center.
Rockton resident Tom Buffum, who lives less than half a mile from Chemtool, said he mistook the factory explosions for thunder.
“After the third explosion, he walked into the room whimpering,” Buffum said of the family dog, Krypto. “He was scared.”
Buffum, his daughter Laura, two grandchildren, Krypto, a cat and a ferret were evacuated from their home by the police. The family were among 15 refugees at Roscoe Middle School.
The Salvation Army sent a Disaster Emergency Services team to distribute food and water.
Cause of fire unknown
Chemtool owner Lubrizol Corporation issued the following statement on Monday morning:
“We have confirmed that everyone on the site is safe and taken care of. Our concern at this time is for the safety of all of our employees and the surrounding community.…
“We don’t yet know what caused this incident, but we will be working with local authorities and our own risk management team to determine what happened and identify corrective actions. We will share more details as they become known.
“We are grateful to our employees, first responders and security forces who responded to this incident.”
Lubrizol Corporation is a Berkshire Hathaway company which owns and operates more than 100 manufacturing plants, sales offices and technical offices around the world and employs approximately 8,800 people.
Air quality test
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency have sent teams to the area to assist local jurisdictions.
The Illinois State Emergency Operations Center in Springfield was activated and members of the Illinois National Guard and mobile response vehicles were dispatched to the area.
“I am monitoring this situation closely and will make all resources available to surrounding communities as we work to ensure the safety of people,” the governor said in a press release.
Among the agencies that responded was the Rockford Fire Department, which sent its hazardous materials team to perform an air quality scan.
“At the moment, there is no danger to the air quality at ground level,” Wilson said.
County officials later said it was an initial assessment and that the United States Environmental Protection Agency was working with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and other local partners to carry out more in-depth testing to measure the impact on air, water and land.
“Our primary focus is on the safety of people by addressing concerns to ensure we alleviate existing conditions,” Winnebago County Public Health Officer Sandra Martell said at a press conference. Monday evening.
Martell urged those who live within three miles of the factory to wear a mask or face covering outside.
The Winnebago County Emergency Operations Center is also tracking the smoke plume and wind direction. The specific area affected at this time is two miles south of Chemtool.
While residents within a mile of the plant have been urged to evacuate, residents two miles directly south of Chemtool are urged to stay indoors as a precaution, close windows and doors and d ” turn off air conditioners / HVAC units.
State health officials are also recommending residents of the mile-long evacuation zone wear masks or face coverings until further notice to prevent soot inhalation.
Wilson said the Chemtool plant is no longer standing, but the blaze is far from over.
“We think it will be a multi-day event for all of this product to be burnt,” Wilson said. “It’s the best thing we can do right now.”
Out of concern for the environment, Wilson said firefighters had stopped pouring water on the blaze.
“The Rock River, which is a very large waterway, is about 300 meters west of this location,” he said. “So that’s one thing that really concerns us, and that’s the product runoff into the river.”
Good employer, partner
Rockton Village President John Peterson said Chemtool has been an integral part of the village for over a decade.
“They have been good partners with our village since they arrived here,” he said. “He is a good employer and they have always supported the village.”
Peterson called the loss of the Chemtool building, its operations and possibly its jobs a “shame.”
“It is still too early to talk about what will happen next,” he said.
The Chemtool factory on Prairie Hill Road is a production center.
Chemtool also operates its corporate technology center at 801 W. Rockton Road and another production center in Crystal Lake.
Chris Green: [email protected]; @chrisfgreen