Rockford Register Star, Ill.
Jun. 16—SOUTH BELOIT — An industrial firefighting team has been deployed in Rockton as part of plan to battle the ongoing fire at Chemtool and curb environmental hazards from the chemical plant blaze.
The thick, black plume of smoke changed to a dark shade of white Tuesday morning as crews continued their efforts to suppress the fire for a second day.
“I know there are questions as to why the fire is still actively burning,” Rockton fire Chief Kirk Wilson said, “but we needed to come up with a game plan that is not only going to help with firefighter safety and the safety of our personnel at the scene but also to protect our community from any environmental impact.”
Wilson provided details on the fire department’s “incident action plan” on Tuesday morning during a news conference at South Beloit High School, roughly 2 miles from the plant.
By 5 p.m. Tuesday, he said the plan had progressed as anticipated and the fire was under control. He also said water runoff from suppression efforts had been contained from spilling into the Rock River.
“As you can see, the smoke plume has dissipated pretty substantially,” he said at an afternoon news conference. “At this point in time we have detected no visible runoff into the waterway (that) is just west of Chemtool and to our main waterway called the Rock River.”
The action plan primarily involves the deployment U.S. Pumps, an industrial firefighting crew based out of Louisiana. The crew is on scene, and they have dug trenches on the west side of Chemtool to block any residual material from flowing into the Rock River.
“The other thing that is under way at this point and time is that there are absorbent booms that are being placed in the river just in case there is any product release,” Wilson said in the morning hours. “This is strictly for precautionary measures. We want to make sure all that is in place before we actually start to do the firefighting.”
Wilson said U.S. Pumps has handled many refinery fires throughout the United States and has expertise in spill clean-up.
“We want to make sure that we have our situation under control and that we don’t compromise the village of Rockton or any of our for waterways before we start to apply foam to this fire.”
Wilson said the plant did have an overhead sprinkler system, but he did not know if it activated.
Crews will continue to work the scene for days.
“This is going to continue to burn. When we’re in the overhaul stage and we’re moving debris around, things may flair up,” Wilson said. “But we want to assure the public that it is under control. It’s not going to go anywhere. It is contained in the area of origin in the building where the fire occurred.”
He also said the number of fire departments involved has increased from 45 to 84.
“We set up strike teams and task forces to not only cover our village in case of other emergency responses that happen and medical calls and things like that but to rotate personnel and fire apparatus out.”
Five engine trucks, five ladder trucks, five fire chiefs and three ambulances are rotated out every eight hours.
“That way no one is getting exhausted,” Wilson said. “It’s a huge collaborated effort through the state of Illinois and also southern Wisconsin.”
Health officials are monitoring the air quality with more than 30 devices around the area of the plant. They’ve also extended the evacuation of residents in a one-mile radius for another night as the monitor how changing temperatures affects the air quality.
“We are doing this out of extreme caution. We have come this far in suppressing a very difficult fire with myriad chemicals,” Winnebago County Health Department Administrator Sandra Martell said. “We want to assure our population that they are safe to return to their homes.”
Chris Green: firstname.lastname@example.org; @chrisfgreen
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