ROCKTON (WREX) — “It’s been a very catastrophic day for our community,” said Kirk Wilson, Fire Chief for Rockton Fire Protection District. “We’ve lost a very well-known business and our hearts are with those employees who are currently unemployed.”
Wilson opened an evening news conference with those words, as local, state and federal officials briefed the Rockton community and the media. Wilson said the cause of the massive fire at the Chemtool industrial lubricant manufacturing plant in Rockton remains under investigation.
The fire was first reported at 7:00 Monday morning. While firefighters initially tried to take an offensive position and put out the fire, they quickly switched to a defensive posture. Thick black smoke from the fire can be seen for miles. Roughly 70 employees in the plant evacuated without injury. One firefighter hospitalized for difficulty breathing has now been released from the hospital.
Wilson said 150 firefighters and 40 pieces of equipment are on the site right now. He said the fire is contained, meaning that it won’t spread beyond the plant site. He said the fire is being allowed to burn the lubricant products at the site, as opposed to dumping a lot of water on the fire, which could have sent runoff into the nearby Rock River. Wilson said there has been no spillage or any runoff into the Rock River but they are keeping a close eye on that. He said, "We can’t speculate on how long this is going to take. We’re doing the best we can right now."
Residents within one mile of the plant have been asked to evacuate. He said it’s not known when those people will be allowed to return to their homes. People within three miles of the site are being asked to wear face coverings when they are outside, to avoid inhaling particulate matter that may be in the air. Authorities are also asking people not normally in the area to stay away to stay safe. Authorities also asked people not to pick up fire debris that fell out of the sky and not mix it with household waste.
Wilson said there are some concerns that the cooling weather at night may cause the smoke plume to drop, which could lead to additional guidance for people in its path. State and Federal environmental officials are on site. The Federal Environmental Protection Agency is setting up 16 air quality monitoring devices in the area downwind of the fire. EPA will monitor for lead, sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air. The network of air quality monitors and two more at the plant will help authorities to determine what precautions may need to be taken as conditions change.
Authorities will continue to monitor the fire as the night goes on and will provide additional information as conditions change.
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