ROCKTON, Il Massive Fire at Chemtool in Rockton Forces Evacuation
Rockton chemical plant explodes, residents evacuated; no injuries … Mon, 14 Jun 2021 10:00:00 -0700-A massive fire at the Chemtool plant in Rockton, Illinois, prompted a mandatory evacuation of the area Monday morning, authorities said.
A massive fire at the Chemtool plant in Rockton, Illinois, prompted a mandatory evacuation of the area Monday morning, authorities said.
The Rockton Police Department posted an alert at around 8:46 a.m., warning that fire officials had ordered a mandatory evacuation for the area south of Chemtool, located at 1165 Prairie Hill Road.
“This notice affects all residents and business south of Chem Tool on Prairie Hill rd. Traffic is advised to avoid area,” the alert reads. “Please evacuate the area. Wait for further instructions.”
Firefighters responded to the fire at the plant at around 7 a.m. Monday, Rockton Fire Protection District Chief Kirk Wilson said at a news conference. Rockton is located roughly 13 miles north of Rockford.
When they arrived, firefighters found the fire had already burned through the roof of the building, which houses the Chemtool lubricant manufacturing facility.
About 70 Chemtool employees on site evacuated the building before firefighters arrived, Wilson said, with no injuries reported among the employees. Wilson said one firefighter sustained what seemed to be minor injuries but was able to walk to an ambulance and was taken to an area hospital for treatment.
Fire officials created an evacuation zone with a one-mile radius, authorities said.
“We did do air quality, we have several agencies that are assisting us right now, including the city of Rockford hazmat. They are doing air quality analysis in the area and at this point in time, there is no danger to air quality at ground level,” Wilson said. “But just for a precautionary measure, we decided that it was in the best interest of community safety that we evacuated the area.”
Fire officials said first responders themselves directly evacuated about 150 homes immediately surrounding Chemtool, but did not have a number of how many people may have evacuated on their own within that one-mile radius.
Wilson said crews had stopped using water to suppress the flames to prevent an “environmental nightmare” of product runoff into the nearby Rock River – meaning the fire could continue to burn for days.
“At this point in time the building is pretty much consumed, we're thinking that this is going to be a several-day event to have all this product burned off,” Wilson said. “And that's the best thing that we can do right now.”
“The main thing is that we don't want an environmental nightmare to occur and, and the reason we can, that we would cause that, is by the use of water streams,” he continued. “So we stopped water operations at this point, we stopped suppression, we felt it was in our best interest to let this product burn off.”
“The Rock River, which is a very large waterway, is about 300 meters to the west of this location. So that's one thing that we're definitely concerned about is product runoff into the river, so we don't want that to happen. So at this point in time it's best that we just let this product burn,” Wilson added.
Wilson said roughly 40 to 45 different agencies from Illinois and southern Wisconsin responded to the fire, with about 150 to 175 fire personnel on the scene.
Officials said they were asking residents to stay out of the area for a few more hours as the situation unfolds.
Massive plumes of thick black smoke billowing into the sky were visible from Chicago, nearly 100 miles away. The smoke has also been picked up on radar systems operated from satellites in space.
The Salvation Army said it was also responding to the fire to provide support to first responders as they battle the blaze.
“The Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services staff and volunteers are responding to the Chemtool fire in Rockton,” the organization said in a statement. “EDS is deploying a mobile feed unit, as well as a field kitchen and rapid response unit to provide meals, snacks and hydration to first responders.”
Massive Fire at Chemtool in Rockton Forces Evacuation Mon, 14 Jun 2021 10:00:00 -0700-ROCKTON, Ill. (WTVO) — Residents within a one mile radius of Chemtool, 1165 Prairie Hill Road, are being asked to evacuate due to possible dangerous …
ROCKTON, Ill. (WTVO) — Residents within a one mile radius of Chemtool, 1165 Prairie Hill Road, are being asked to evacuate due to possible dangerous chemicals being released in a large fire at the facility Monday morning.
Approximately 70 employees were evacuated and were uninjured. Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson said one firefighter was treated for injuries.
Wilson also said air quality tests had been performed by the City of Rockford HAZMAT team, and “there is no danger to air quality” at ground level.
A massive dark plume of smoke extended south-southeast from the fire, raining ash and debris on residents as far south as DeKalb.
Wilson said about 150 residents and businesses within a one mile radius of Chemtool were “strongly suggested” to evacuate as a precaution, due to potentially hazardous chemicals stored at the facility.
Rockton Middle School, at 6121 Elevator Rd, has been set up as an evacuation site.
The fire chief also said that it will likely take several days for the oil-based fire to burn off.
According to Chemtool, the fire began around 7 a.m. “We have confirmed all on site are safe and accounted for. Our concern right now is for the safety of all our employees and the surrounding community. As a precaution, authorities have evacuated residents in a one-mile radius of the site.
“We do not yet know what caused this incident, but we will be working with local authorities and with our own risk management team to determine what happened and identify any corrective actions. We will share more details as they are known.”
The company manufactures fluids, lubricants and grease products which are distributed worldwide.
A neighbor who lives less than 100 yards away from the plant said he was at work when the fire started.
“The center of this plume of smoke is dead-center where my property is,” the neighbor said. “The chemicals that go into that building all day long… (I) have no idea what’s going to happen to the neighborhood.”
Scott, an employee at the plant, had been at work for less than an hour when he heard someone yell, “Fire!” and then the fire alarms went off.
“Everybody that got us out of there — they were on top of it. We had plenty of time to get out. Everybody got out. It was pretty well organized. There’s a lot of grease, oil and fluids in there. It’s gonna burn for a while. If it was going to explode, it would’ve already done it. Those small explosions that everyone’s seeing are drums of fluid or grease.”
The employee said it was his understanding that one of the pipes that pumps hot grease up to the ceiling from kettle to kettle broke. However, the company has not yet confirmed the cause of the fire.
The employee said staff has been evacuated in the past for small emergencies, but nothing on this scale.
“This is the worst it’s ever, ever been,” he said.
“We’re just seeing a lot of hard work go up in flames,” he said. “We’re all scared and wondering what we’re gonna do.”
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said his office was monitoring the situation in Rockton, adding, “My thoughts are with the first responders fighting this blaze and all impacted. If you’re in the area, please follow the instructions of local law enforcement to stay safe.”
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– June 14, 2021