Fumes from Plastics Plant Fire Prompt Evacuation in Zion

Toxic fumes forced firefighters to work in full gear, go through detox

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    Officials evacuated part of Zion for almost two hours Sunday morning due to hazardous fumes from a fire that broke out at Maine Plastics.

    Zion Fire Department responded to a fire at Maine Plastics, located at 1817 Kenosha Road (near the intersection of Route 173 and Kenosha Road), about 7 a.m., according to Zion Fire Chief John Lewis. A total of 35 different fire departments responded to the three-alarm fire.

    Pallets containing plastic products from the plant and cardboard were on fire. The plastic contains acetol, a chemical that gives off formaldehyde, Lewis said.

    Evacuation was ordered for a one-mile radius south of the incident for one-and-a-half to two hours, Lewis said.

    The evacuation was canceled by noon Sunday because there were no more hazardous chemicals in the air, he said.

    All firefighters who were on scene in full gear had to go through chemical detox as a safety precaution, Lewis said. Formaldehyde is toxic and carcinogenic, according to medicaldictionary.com.

    The fire occurred in the exterior of the building inside a gated area.

    There was not enough water from area fire hydrants to douse the flames, so the fire departments had to pump in water from the pond at nearby Horizon Village, Lewis said.

    It took four to five hours to extinguish the fire, he estimated. One firefighter was transported to the hospital for non life-threatening injuries.

    Lewis said the last comparable major fire in the area was the plane crash at Midwestern and the transformer fire at the hospital a few years ago.

    “We don’t get a lot of commercial structure fires,” Lewis said.

    Bystander Kevin Levin of Zion observed thick, black smoke pouring out of the building Sunday morning. He said he heard about the fire on a police scanner. He used to be a volunteer firefighter for Winthrop Harbor.

    “It looked pretty bad,” Levin said.

    He said there was a lot of smoke. He also said the cardboard boxes burning would make the flames hot. Levin also observed that the wind made the flames flare up.

    Maine Plastics processes more than 140 million pounds of plastic a year. Headquartered in Zion, they have plants in 10 states, according to its website.