A chemical fire at Chemtool Inc. in Rockton, Illinois, forced residents to flee their homes early Monday morning. Police said that the local fire department ordered a mandatory evacuation for all households and businesses within a one-mile radius of the facility.
Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson said the city to avoid an "environmental nightmare" if any of Chemtool's oil-based lubricants spills into the Rock River, which is roughly 300 meters west. Wilson stated the department's water-based firefighting suppression has halted the fire inside the structure, and they are now letting the substance "burn off" during a press conference.
Officials worry that the chemical plant's products may reach the river
He stated that one of their biggest concerns is product pouring into the river. The massive cloud of smoke traveling south and southeast from the explosion location is also a source of worry.
Wilson said the city's hazmat team has conducted an air quality examination and confirmed that there is no air quality compromise at ground level at this time, CNN reported. As a "precautionary step," he added, evacuations are still in effect for a one-mile radius around the explosion site. The evacuation zone has about 150 residences.
The plant's burn-off is likely to take several days. There are now 40-45 agencies and 150-175 firefighters on the site. Wilson noted that the reason for the "catastrophic incident" has yet to be identified.
The flames were through the roof and clouds of smoke filled the sky when firefighters arrived. The factory's 70 employees were able to safely exit, but one fireman hurt. No more information is immediately available.
Chemical fire alarms National Guard in Illinois
As local people were evacuated due to a large fire at a chemical facility, the governor dispatched the National Guard to the region. In the late afternoon, the blaze in Rockton, Illinois, continued to spew a heavy cloud of black smoke into the sky.
Governor J.B. Pritzker activated the state's National Guard and dispatched emergency vehicles to assist local authorities. Crews from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, or IEMA, were also dispatched to the area.
According to Chemtool's website, the company specializes in manufacturing industrial fluids, greases, and lubricants and was bought by Lubrizol, a Berkshire Hathaway Company, in 2013. "Plant officials indicated that they are collaborating with government agencies to monitor the effects of the fire on the water supply and the environment.
Firefighters try to avoid the environmental nightmare
Rockton is roughly 80 miles southwest of Milwaukee and 95 miles northwest of Chicago and has a population of roughly 7,500 people. It is located just south of the Wisconsin border.
Explosions could be heard across the area, according to Rockton resident James Berger. Per NBC News, Berger, who lives a football field away from the smoldering plant, said, "Oh yeah, and multiple ones. The flames would shoot sky high every time an explosion occurred."
Dr. Sandra Martell, the head of the Winnebago County Health Department, advised residents to wear masks if they had to go outside.
All of Chemtool's Rockton employees are safe, per a statement. "We've checked that everyone on site is safe and accounted for. Right now, our first concern is for the safety of all of our workers as well as the surrounding neighborhood."