Pritzker issues disaster proclamation after lithium battery fire in Morris

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MORRIS, Ill. — Illinois Governor JB Pritzker has issued a disaster proclamation for Grundy County in response to an industrial fire in Morris that forced thousands out of their homes.

More than 100 emergency response crews were called to the Superior Battery warehouse located in the 900 block of East Benton Street last Tuesday, June 29, after tons of lithium batteries caught fire. The blaze in Morris prompted city officials to evacuate 3,000-4,000 people in some 950 nearby homes, a school, church, and small businesses. The order was lifted on Friday, July 2.

The fire continued to burn for days due to fears that extinguishment efforts would trigger more explosions. Crews used 28 tons of cement to smother the burning lithium batteries since water and foam were not options. Air quality concerns were also raised. However, last week, the Grundy County Health Commissioner said air quality tests remained good.

“Protecting the health and safety of every resident in Illinois is a top priority for my administration and this disaster proclamation will allow us to provide the full scale of support and tools needed for Grundy County,” said Pritzker. “State agencies have been on the ground since the day the fire broke out and we will continue to support the local community in the days and weeks ahead.”

The disaster proclamation grants the state “the ability to expedite the use of state resources, personnel or equipment, and allows the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) to procure additional resources to help the county respond to the disaster,” a statement read.

To the surprise of the fire department and other city agencies, the building was being used to store nearly 100 tons of lithium batteries ranging in size from cellphone batteries to large car batteries.

The company’s property owner, Jin Zheng, apologized for the fire’s effects on those who live and work nearby.

“I really feel sorry that it’s hurting the community,” he said.

An investigation is ongoing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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