Gov. Pritzker issues disaster proclamation after Morris lithium ion battery industrial fire

ByABC7 Chicago Digital Team via WLS logo
Monday, July 5, 2021
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Governor Pritzker issued a disaster proclamation for Grundy County Monday after last week's massive industrial fire in Morris released toxic fumes into the air.

GRUNDY COUNTY, Ill. (WLS) -- Governor Pritzker issued a disaster proclamation for Grundy County Monday after last week's massive industrial fire in Morris released toxic fumes into the air.

That fire burned hundreds of thousands of pounds of lithium ion batteries, forcing nearly 5,000 people to evacuate their homes.

WATCH: Morris officials lift evacuation order, share cleaning tips for returning residents

The blaze started just before 11:45 a.m. Tuesday at the old Federal Paper Board facility in the 900-block of East Benton Street.

Officials evacuated the southeast side of Morris after the fire broke out last Tuesday, as toxic fumes and smoke emanated from the building, stemming from as many as 200,000 lithium batteries exploding.

The EPA has placed air quality monitors around the town of Morris, including right at the entrance of the building. As of our last report, they had found any evidence of harmful contaminants getting into the air.

Morris Fire Chief Tracey Steffes said they have used 28 tons of Portland cement, an unconventional method, to smother the burning lithium batteries. Before using cement, firefighters tried using a dry chemical to extinguish the fire.

WATCH: Morris officials discuss progress fighting fire with cement

The fire department said they plan to monitor the situation for at least the next couple of weeks.

The order allows the state to expedite additional resources to help Grundy County respond to the disaster.

Morris Mayor Chris Brown said the city was not aware of the batteries.

WATCH: Morris mayor says city unaware batteries being stored at warehouse now ablaze

"To our understanding, we were unaware of the batteries in the warehouse and only came upon it when the firemen started to do their work and push water onto the fire; they've been taking all the precautions necessary to make sure everything is safe and contained," he said last week.

The building's owner Jin Zheng said he was on the scene minutes after the fire started, but he was unable to get inside. He said the thick black smoke coming from the building was fueled by explosions of thousands of lithium batteries he had inside.

Zheng said he was storing supplies in the 70,000-square-foot warehouse because he was planning to open a solar power business by the end of the year.

"I have to say sorry," Zheng said at the time.

Zheng said he has lost his life savings in the fire. He planned to get insurance after he opened the business. He also planned to have repairs done to the building's roof later this week, and he believes water dripping onto the batteries could have sparked the explosions and fire.

WATCH: Drone flies over smoldering Morris battery fire

Tuesday's fire comes less than one month after the massive blaze at the Chemtool grease plant in Rockton. Special resources still in the area from that fire are now being utilized in Morris.

The Illinois EPA is monitoring air quality from several locations around town. An EPA spokesman said Friday the agency would continue working in the area. The air quality was "good" Friday, Steffes said.

Morris officials said any dust settled on items outside residents' homes should be carefully cleaned off.

Visit GrundyCo.org for more information on what to do when returning home.