ROCKTON—The Chemtool plant in the Rockton Township has been totally destroyed by fire, according to Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson, and the fire could continue for several days.
Firefighters were called to the Chemtool plant, 1165 Prairie Hill Road in Rockton Township at approximately 7 a.m. as smoke was showing at the plant. The plant, which produces lubricants, employs about 70 people who all evacuated safely. One firefighter went to a local hospital after breathing difficulties, but Wilson said during a news conference Monday that the firefighter was released from the hospital.
An explosion appeared to occur during the initial fire response, and flames were visible throughout the late morning and into the afternoon.
Wilson said it was a volatile fire and was coming through the roof when firefighters arrived on scene. Firefighters shifted to defensive fire fighting for the safety of all on scene. Due to concerns over environmental impact, some of the fire suppression was halted to allow the product in the plant to burn off.
Several grass fires burned throughout the day on the site of Chemtool, but they were contained. Wilson said a big concern was any runoff water getting into the nearby Rock River, but as of Monday afternoon there had been no spillage.
Wilson said 150 firefighters were on scene as of Monday evening working the fire. Shifts of firefighters were working 8-hour shifts and rotating out with other departments. About 40 agencies had responded to the industrial fire.
“Right now we can’t speculate how long this is going to take,” Wilson said.
Earlier Monday he said the fire could last several days.
“At this point in time the building is pretty much consumed. We’re thinking this is going to be a several day event to have all this product burned off,” Wilson said.
He also said because there is concern about environmental damage, water streams have been halted. Crews want to prevent runoff into the nearby Rock River.
Winnebago County Public Health Administrator Dr. Sandra Martell asked people within 3 miles to wear masks to guard against particulates in the air. Martell also urged people not to pick up any debris falling from the sky. She asked people to sequester it and separate it from other household items, possibly using a shovel.
“We don’t know what that waste contains. Do not handle it with your bare hands,” she said.
The state and federal EPA have set up monitoring stations throughout Rockton and over toward the Roscoe area to monitor air quality to determine if further evacuation is needed.
Those living within a 1-mile radius of the plant have been strongly encouraged to evacuate.
Chemtool is the largest manufacturer of grease in the United States. It participates in the Tier II program, annual federal report that is mandatory for companies that store hazardous materials, according to the office of Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) teams were working with the Illinois EPA to begin in-depth testing to measure the fire’s impact on the air, water and land.
The Winnebago County Emergency Operations Center is actively tracking the smoke plume and wind direction.
In a news release, Lubrizol Corp., the owner of the Chemtool plant, said the cause of the fire is still unknown.
“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 news release said.
A new evacuation site was established at Roscoe Middle School after evacuees in Rockton were moved from Stephen Mack Middle School.
A large plume of black smoke coming from the plant could be seen for miles.
Brent Pristelski said he could see the smoke from Harvard, Illinois as he was driving to Janesville Monday morning.
Nearby residents reported local evacuations in the Rockton area.
Residences, businesses and schools were evacuated as the fire raged. Hononegah High School and Taylor Company, both in Rockton, were among those evacuated.
Mark Patrick, whose house is near the Chemtool property, said he heard some explosions shortly after 7 a.m. Then he started getting calls on his phone from people asking what was happening.
He said some of his neighbors were asked to evacuate, but as of 8:30 a.m., he had not yet been told to evacuate.
Some people in Rockton were reporting ash and debris falling from the sky. Because of recent dry weather, fire personnel cautioned people to keep an eye out for potential grass fires.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker activated the Illinois State Emergency Operations Center in Springfield, and members of the Illinois National Guard and mobile response vehicles were dispatched to the area.
Personnel from the following are responding: Illinois Emergency Management Agency, Illinois State Police, Illinois Department of Transportation, Illinois Department of Public Health, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Office of State Fire Marshal, Illinois National Guard, Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS), American Red Cross and Salvation Army.
In addition, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency has activated its Radiological Emergency Assessment Center (REAC) and the Illinois National Guard Civil Support Team to make environmental recommendations.
Beloit Daily News news staff members Hillary Gavan, Austin Montgomery and Clint Wolf contributed to this story.