Illinois chemical plant explosion, fires prompt evacuations

Illinois chemical plant explosion, fires prompt evacuations

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CHICAGO (AP) — An explosion at a northern Illinois chemical plant Monday morning sparked massive fires that sent flames and huge plumes of thick black smoke high into the air and debris raining onto the ground, prompting evacuations.

After 7 a.m., emergency crews rushed to the scene of the fire near Rockton, northwest of Chicago, at Chemtool Inc., a company that manufactures lubricants, grease products and other fluids, and is, according to the company, the largest manufacturer of grease in the Americas.

Rockton Fire Department Chief Kirk Wilson said about 70 employees were evacuated safely from the plant, and that one firefighter suffered a minor injury. Chemtool’s parent company, Lubrizol Corp., later said there were closer to 50 employees present when the plant was evacuated.

The plumes became so big they were being picked up on weather radar. Wilson said there was “no danger to air quality at ground level.”


The Rockton Police Department posted an alert at 8:46 a.m. warning that fire officials had ordered a mandatory evacuation of homes and businesses near the plant. Later in the day, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office expanded the evacuation zone from a 1- to a 2-mile radius from the plant “out of an abundance of caution,” and encouraged people within that zone to wear masks to prevent them from inhaling soot.

“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.

Wilson said firefighters had stopped using water to extinguish the blaze to prevent an “environmental nightmare” if the runoff were to enter the nearby Rock River.

It could be “several days” before the fluids that caught fire burn out, he said.

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