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Rockton Chemical Plant Fire: Evacuation Order Still in Effect

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An evacuation order related to the massive fire at a chemical plant in Rockton, Illinois, remains in effect for a third day on Wednesday.

"I would like to reiterate and remind the public that the evacuation order up to one mile is still in effect," Rockton Fire Protection District Chief Kirk Wilson said at a news conference Wednesday morning.

"I know there have been some conflicting reports that the order has been lifted. That is not true. At this point in time and remains in effect," Wilson continued, adding, "I do want to remind the public and our community to please, please be patient, be vigilant. We are doing everything we can to get you back into your homes."

The fire began at the Chemtool lubricant production plant, located at 1165 Prairie Hill Road in Rockton in Winnebago County, at around 7 a.m. Monday morning.

The blaze forced an evacuation of the area, with a one-mile radius evacuation zone from the plant still in effect, and prompted authorities to ask anyone within a three-mile radius of the plant to wear a mask.

The plant, which produces more industrial grease than any other plant in the country, houses dozens of chemicals, with some like lead and sulfuric acid, potentially posing hazards to nearby areas.

Crews stopped using water to battle the blaze early Monday in order to prevent an "environmental nightmare" of product runoff into the Rock River, with authorities saying at the time that the fire could continue to burn over the course of a "several-day event."

Wilson said Tuesday that crews dug trenches around Chemtool to block runoff and placed booms in the river in case of any product release - all an effort to protect the nearby Rock River, a vital groundwater source for the community. Once those protections were in place, a team from Louisiana that specializes in fighting industrial fires began to spray foam on the flames.

Wilson said Wednesday that fire suppression efforts were "still underway."

"As I mentioned yesterday, this is going to be a long process of getting deep inside of this building that has been destroyed by fire, moving, moving materials around so the firefighting crews can do proper extinguishment and proper containment," Wilson said. "Again, I need to remind all of our stakeholders and our businesses to please, please be patient with us as this is an ongoing effort."

"At this point in time, I'm happy to report that there has not been any release of any toxins into our waterways and, and into our water system within the village of Rockton," Wilson said.

About 70 Chemtool employees on site evacuated the building before firefighters arrived, with no injuries reported. Two firefighters were taken to area hospitals - one for a minor injury to his leg and the other to be pre-evaluated for smoke inhalation - but have since been released.

The Red Cross, along with the Salvation Army, the Illinois National Guard, and a slew of state and federal agencies and departments, immediately mobilized after the fire broke out.

It remains unclear when area residents who evacuated will be allowed to return to their homes. Air quality monitors, more than 30 in all, have been set up around the area.

"We want to be as safe as possible we want to protect our residents, we don't want to have something happen that's going to cause a problem later in the future," Wilson said Tuesday.

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