Firefighters in Rockton have made significant progress in battling a blaze at a chemical plant that began to burn on Monday, but the fallout from the fire is just beginning.
A team from Louisiana, specializing in fighting industrial fires that involve dangerous chemicals, began to assist firefighters in gaining ground on Tuesday, pouring chemical foam and water on the blaze at the Chemtool lubricant manufacturing facility.
The Illinois EPA helped to dig trenches around the property to help contain runoff, and booms were placed into the nearby Rock River to help protect water supplies.
The plume of smoke, which could be seen for miles when the inferno began on Monday, began to slowly dissipate as firefighters gained ground on Tuesday.
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“Fire suppression efforts are possible. Things are working into our favor,” fire chief Kirk Wilson said.
The Louisiana team used techniques it has honed in fighting refinery fires in the south, smothering the fire with specially-formulated foam and then pounding the fire with water.
“We’re talking 600 gallons a minute that’s flowing out of these nozzles,” Wilson said. “Our fire apparatus can’t do that.”
Meanwhile, Rockton residents are still being impacted by the blaze. All residents who live within a mile of the facility are still out of their homes due to a mandatory evacuation order, and those living within three miles of the facility are being asked to wear masks to protect themselves from airborne particles.
Residents are now left with the task of starting to clean up the debris left behind by the fire.
“Everything was just kind of going over us, but it was just like the air was smoky and it smelled of oil,” resident Jay Larson said.
Larson believes that he found a piece of the plant’s roof in his backyard, more than a mile from where the initial explosion and the fire occurred.
Residents are being advised to handle any materials with gloves and other safety equipment due to the chemicals present in the plant.
Air quality monitors, more than 30 in all, have been set up around the area, and while all levels are still within safe range, officials say that dropping temperatures on Tuesday and into Wednesday are being closely monitored, as the sinking air could push any remaining particulates closer to the surface.
“As the temperature drops, as the atmospheric layer comes down, we really want to get and see whether those numbers hold well overnight,” Dr. Sandra Martell, public health administrator in Winnebago County, said.
More information will be made available at a press conference Wednesday morning.