Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has activated the State Emergency Operation Center to help coordinate the response to a massive chemical fire at a plant in Winnebago County.
The fire, which forced the evacuation of residents within a two mile radius of the Chemtool lubricant manufacturing facility in Rockton, could potentially burn for days, according to officials.
Pritzker announced Monday that personnel from a slew of state agencies and departments, including the Illinois Emergency Management Association, State Police, the Illinois National Guard and the Department of Public Health, have been activated and are participating in the response to the fire.
“I am monitoring this situation closely, and will make all resources available to the surrounding communities as we work to keep people safe,” Pritzker said in a statement. “Teams from multiple state agencies are on the ground and coordinating closely with local authorities, and we will continue to make additional information available as soon as we have it.”
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IDOT, The Illinois EPA, the State Fire Marshal’s Office, the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army have also been mobilized in the area. Residents who have had to evacuate have been encouraged to seek shelter at Roscoe Middle School.
Pritzker advised residents to heed warnings from local officials in the wake of the fire, which started Monday morning at the plant.
Residents in the affected evacuation area are being asked to wear masks to help prevent the inhalation of airborne particulates and soot, according to officials.
According to officials, the fire broke out just before 7 a.m. Chemtool, according to state officials, is the largest manufacturer of grease in the United States. Officials said first responders directly evacuated approximately 150 homes immediately surrounding the plant, and eventually a two-mile radius around the plant was ordered to evacuate.
“We are doing air quality analysis in the area and at this point in time, there is no danger to air quality at ground level,” Rockton Fire Protection District Chief Kirk Wilson said. “Just as a precautionary measure, we decided that it was in the best interest of community safety that we evacuated the area.”
Wilson says that firefighters have stopped using water to suppress flames, citing a potential “environmental runoff” if chemicals run off into the nearby Rock River. That decision means that the fire could potentially burn for days, according to officials.
“At this point in time, the building is pretty much consumed. We’re thinking that this is going to be a several day event to have all this product burned off,” Wilson said.