Fire at Rockton chemical plant under control; evacuees unable to return home

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ROCKTON, Ill. — A chemical fire continues to burn near Rockford Tuesday night as evacuees prepare for a second night away from home.

The news comes after Monday’s fire and explosions at a Rockton-area Chemtool plant, the nation’s largest industrial grease producer. No injuries were reported as more than 70 employees escaped the raging inferno unharmed.

Massive fire at Rockton chemical plant continues to burn 24 hours later

More than 24 hours after the fire ignited, triggering a response from 80 different departments, including a specialized crew from Louisiana, Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson offered an update on the ongoing blaze, saying that teams were making progress. He says he would not speculate on when the fire will be out completely, however.

“Everything is progressing as we anticipated and planned throughout the day,” Wilson said.

The fire chief adds that the fire has been contained at the 230,000 square foot facility. In the interim, hot spots are expected to occur while air and water monitoring continue. According to Wilson, 30 air monitoring devices have been set up throughout the area. Other than an elevated cyanide reading at the edge of the property, air quality looks good, according to the Illinois and United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Chemical plant fire, smoke plume in Rockton fuels air quality concerns

Moving forward, officials say a private company has been hired to help area residents and businesses clean up their properties from any toxic particulates that may have landed.   

Officials add that materials inside the plant has burned off at a rate of 500,000 gallons an hour.

Wilson said fire crews detected no visible runoff into the waterways, or nearby Rock River, where many residents get their source of drinking water.

As for people who had to evacuate their homes, officials say they will have to stay away at least one more day.

“And the reason for that is the inversion layer,” said Dr. Sandra Martell, County Health Director. “We talked about this yesterday. As the temperature drops and the atmosphere layer comes down, we really want to get and see do those numbers hold well overnight so that we can make sure that those positive numbers that we’re getting in terms of air quality can persist.”

The Illinois Attorney General announced their intent to investigate exactly what led to the massive blaze and firestorm. The office adds that hefty fines are possible.

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