Nearly 100 tons of lithium batteries were involved in a large industrial fire in southwest suburban Morris Tuesday that led to emergency evacuations and a large-scale response as authorities warned of "highly poisonous" and "very deadly" fumes.
Fire officials initially responded to the blaze around noon in the 900 block of East Benton, where they quickly started fighting flames. But their efforts took a turn when they learned that inside the building on fire were between 80 and 100 tons of lithium batteries, according to Tracey Steffes, fire chief of the Morris Fire Protection & Ambulance District.
"We were advised that we're dealing with between 80 and 100 tons of lithium batteries, so around 180,000 pounds to 200,000 pounds of lithium batteries," Steffes said. "These batteries range in size from your cell phone to a little bigger than a car battery and as these batteries get wet, they short out and they ignite and explode. And that's the problem we're having. So we started our initial attack with water, and then we learned very quickly that that was not going to be a good avenue for extinguishment for this fire."
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Firefighters were forced to back away from the building and stop using water.
"The biggest hazard we're dealing with right now is the smoke or the fumes from this fire," Steffes said. "This gas is highly poisonous, it's very deadly."
Emergency evacuations were ordered in parts of Morris due to the dangerous fumes.
The Grundy County IL Emergency Management Agency ordered anyone who lives in the 900 blocks of Benton, Douglas or Armstrong streets as well as those who live on East Street to "please evacuate your residence now."
"There is an industrial fire to the south," the alert read.
Those in need of a place to go were urged to head to the Grundy County Administration building located at 1320 Union St.
No injuries had been reported in the incident, according to Steffes, who credited resources brought to Illinois due to a chemical plant fire in Rockton with helping in the latest situation.
"One good thing about the Rockton fire is there's been some resources very close to us, that would not have been here if the Rockton fire hadn't happened," Steffes said.
He noted, however, that the Morris incident is on a "much, much smaller scale" and "different" from the Rockton plant fire.
Check back for more on this developing story.