Rockton Chemtool fire continues burning for 2nd day; evacuation order remains in effect

Mandatory evacuation within 1-mile radius, advisory to wear masks for anyone outside within 3 miles, officials say

Wednesday, June 16, 2021
Rockton chemical plant explosion causes major fire, smoke
An explosion close to Rockton, Ill. took place at Chemtool chemical plant Monday morning. Officials say the fire could burn for days.A massive fire at a Rockton, Illinois Chemtool plant has been brought largely under control in its second day, though some hot spots remain.

ROCKTON, Ill. (WLS) -- A massive fire at a Rockton, Illinois Chemtool plant continues to burn for a second day Tuesday.

The massive chemical plant went up in flames around 7 a.m. Monday and firefighters say it could burn for several days.

The Rockton Fire Department has ordered a mandatory evacuation affecting all residents and businesses within one mile of Chemtool. It will last until at least Wednesday morning, officials said Tuesday afternoon.

A fire at the Chemtool plant in Rockton, illinois continues to burn for a second day.

Village officials, concerned about nearby residents, evacuated people from a one mile radius, about 150 homes, as a precaution. Anyone within 3 miles of the fire is advised to wear a mask to protect themselves.

Fire officials said potentially toxic compounds like lead, nitrogen and sulfuric acids only fueled the flames and that drowning the fire with water simply isn't an option.

"Oh yeah, they heard it," said Melodie Chamberlain, whose family has been forced from their home. "My grandson woke up my daughter in law and said 'mom you gotta wake up, there's a vibration on our fireplace."

The Chemtool chemical plant in Rockton, Illinois, caught fire Monday after a reported explosion, authorities said. A mandatory evacuation is in place for the town, located north of Rockford.

Around mid-morning, firefighters poured a special foam solution on the smoldering blaze. The thick black smoke turned to white, an indication they are finally making progress in putting the fire out.

At a press conference Tuesday morning, Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson said an industrial firefighter crew from Louisiana had arrived to help battle the fire.

"They have actually dug trenches along the west side of Chemtool to act as a block of any type of residual material that might go into the Rock River," Chief Wilson said.

By Tuesday night, authorities said they had the upper hand, though hot spots remained.

"Things may flare up," Chief Wilson said. "But we want to ensure the public that it is under control."

Industrial booms are also being placed to help protect the Rock River. When the river is secure by this afternoon, foam will be applied on the burned areas and extinguish the flames still burning.

Meanwhile state officials say air testing showed no danger at ground level, but they and the EPA continue to monitor the situation.

"We're really looking to see what change that there might be so that will lead us to any indication to concerns with life safety," said Alicia Tate Nadeau with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. "We wanna be sure, before we return to residences, the air quality is OK."

After the flames are out, there will be a period of evaluation before evacuated residents are allowed to return, but at this time officials can't say when that might be.

Chemtool, which produces industrial lubricants, says all of its 70 employees were able to evacuate without injury. A firefighter was transported for minor injuries, Chief Wilson said

RELATED: Rockton chemical plant had recent, unannounced federal inspection

Tuesday morning, Bill Snyder, vice president of operations at Lubrizol, Chemtool's parent company, issued an apology and said they're here to support the community and do the right thing.

"It's obviously a very severe impact and we apologize to the people who had to be evacuated whose property and other things may have been impacted by the fire," Snyder said.

The company said all of the employees will continue to get full pay and benefits.

Darren Nipper worked security at the plant for three years before leaving in May, and is glad all his friends made it out safely.

"Apparently God was watching over me," he said.

Nipper said he always worried what would happen if the plant caught fire, and it may be some time before authorities can determine the cause.

The evacuation forced Kathryn Markley to spend the night in a Red Cross Shelter with her frightened cats.

"Like I said, my butt's tired. I can't sleep in a strange place and I got my two kitties with me and I'm worried about 'em," Markley said.

WATCH: Officials provide update on Rockton chemical plant fire, environmental concerns

An explosion close to Rockton, Ill. took place at Chemtool chemical plant Monday morning. Officials say the fire could burn for days.

Amateur photographer Jason Decker first saw the smoke from his home a couple miles away early in the morning. He captured video from a neighbor's yard as firefighters battled the flames in the early stages.

"It was raining on us. Embers falling on us," Decker said.

For Laura Buffum and her family, including their dog Krypto, Monday morning dawned with the sound of what was believed to be intense roadwork. Soon, in her block a half-mile south of the Chemtool plant, neighbors were on their lawns strategizing about an emergency.

"The dog started barking this morning and I went outside because I noticed a lot of my neighbor standing out looking," Buffum said. "And I looked and saw this big huge smoke but nobody knew what was on fire. The next-door neighbor came over and told us to chemical plant is actually on fire and the police would recommend you leave the area."

A massive fire at a chemical plant in Rockton, Illinois could be burning for seveeral days, the town's fire chief says.

She and her family had little time to think, so they first went to nearby Machesney Park before hightailing it six miles to Roscoe Middle School.

Rockton Fire ordered the mandatory evacuation, and the notice affects all residents and businesses in a one-mile radius of 1165 Prairie Hill Road. Drivers are advised to avoid the area.

Evacuated residents were advised to proceed to Stephen Mack Middle School, but the evacuation site has been moved to Roscoe Middle School that has since been converted into a Red Cross shelter, Rockton police said.

There, evacuees are being provided with food and cots for sleeping. Pets are also allowed.

How weather impacts toxic smoke from Rockton chemical plant fire

Meteorologist Greg Dutra explains how the weather will affect the toxic smoke in the air as the Chemtool chemical plant continues to burn.

The Red Cross has prepared the shelter to house hundreds of people, which the agency said it prepared to scale up if needed.

The Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) out of Elk Grove Village is also feeding and comforting the evacuees who do not know when they will be able to return home, nor what they will find when they get there.

"I have never seen a blaze that big before and it is just tremendous the number of people out there," said Donna Ceglarek, a Salvation Army volunteer.

"I am very scared that my house will go on fire, but I know the fire department will protect our community," said Justice Sprague.