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Rockton: Industrial Fire At Chemtool Leads To Evacuations

Fire at Chemtool on Monday, June 14, 2021
Fire at Chemtool on Monday, June 14, 2021

A massive structure fire at a grease plant in far northern Illinois on Monday forced dozens of area employees from the facility and residents from their homes.

It’s unclear how the fire started, but there are no serious injuries.

evacuation zone
Credit Village of Rockton
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evacuation zone

Emergency crews say it could take days to burn off and that the structure is a total loss. The Rockton Fire Department ordered an evacuation for a one mile radius around Chemtool Incorporated due to the industrial fire which began Monday morning. Those living within two miles directly south of the plant are being asked to stay indoors, close windows and doors and turn off air conditioning/HVAC units.  Roscoe Middle School has been established as a site for those who are displaced.

Rockton Police Chief Kirk Wilson said 70 people were working on site. One firefighter suffered minor injuries and has been released from observation.

Wilson said at the update that, based on initial tests, there was no danger to air quality at the ground level. 

Still, health officials are warning residents in northern Illinois to stay away from potentially dangerous debris that could show up in their yards.  Local, state and federal agencies have set up air quality monitors around the site. The grease manufacturer was known to store a variety of hazardous materials including lead, nitrogen, and sulfuric acid.

Winnebago County Health Administrator Sandra Martell says that’s why residents should steer clear of any waste they find in their yards related to the fire.

"We do not know what that waste contains," said Martell. "Do not handle it with bare hands. Use a shovel, gloves and sequester it and keep it separate from your household waste so that we know how to properly dispose of it.”

Fire officials are not using water to combat the blaze for fear that runoff could contaminate the nearby Rock River.The Village of Rockton has posted an evacuation map on its Facebook page.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker activated the State Emergency Operation Center to mobilize emergency response personnel and facilities to monitor the fire. The Illinois Environmental Protection and Emergency Management agencies dispatched crews to assist local authorities at the site. The IEPA, with help from the U.S. EPA, will conduct more in-depth testing of the impact to air, water and land. Members of the Illinois National Guard and mobile response vehicles were also sent. 

State health officials recommend that anyone within three miles of the site wear masks or face coverings for the time being to prevent the inhalation of particulate matter (soot). They also say residents should monitor local media for changing instructions as the situation progresses. 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco, Jenna Dooley and Guy Stephens contributed to this report. 

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