Massive explosion, fire at Ill. chemical plant, evacuations underway
According to the alert, the Rockton area fire has been rated as severe, posing a significant threat to life or property
By Associated Press
ROCKTON, Ill. — An explosion at a chemical plant in northern Illinois sparked massive fires that sent flames and huge plumes of thick black smoke high into the air Monday morning, prompting evacuations.
Emergency crews rushed to the scene of the 7:30 a.m. 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.
Amid reports that the plumes of smoke were so big they were being picked up on weather radar, the Rockton Police Department at 8:46 a.m., posted an alert, warning that fire officials had ordered a mandatory evacuation near the plant. It told people to evacuate homes and businesses, and to await further instructions.
Trisha Diduch, the planning and development administrator for Rockton, said she estimates about 1,000 people are affected by the evacuation order and the downtown area, which is just about a mile from the plant, is being evacuated. The order is for a 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) radius, she said.
There were no immediate reports of injuries, and in a statement Chemtool said: "We have confirmed all on site are safe and accounted for. Our concern right now is for the safety of all our employees and the surrounding community."
The company said it will share additional details as they're known.
"We do not yet know what caused this incident, but we will be working with local authorities and with our own risk management team to determine what happened and identify any corrective actions," it said.
Investigators with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Chicago were heading to the scene and expected to issue a statement later Monday, spokeswoman Rachel Bassler said. They were coordinating with the Illinois EPA, which also was sending a team, according to spokeswoman Kim Biggs.
Rockton is located in Winnebago County, near the Wisconsin border, about 95 miles 153 kilometers) northwest of Chicago.
An evacuation order was in place Monday in a northern Illinois near Rockford because of a chemical fire large enough to be picked up by weather radar, officials said.
Residents and businesses within a one-mile radius of at Chemtool Incorporated, 1165 Prairie Hill Road, in Rockton, have been ordered to evacuate and go to Stephan Mack Middle School, Rockton Police said through a Nixle alert.
According to the alert, the fire has been rated as severe, posing a significant threat to life or property.
The fire was large enough to be picked up on weather radar, according to the National Weather Service’s Chicago office. A passenger on a flight from Madison, Wisconsin, to Chicago, Michael Leto, spotted the fire from the air and took a picture a little before 9:10 a.m., he said.
Crews from the Rockton Fire Protection District and the Rockton Police Department, along with other areas fire departments, were at the scene. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency had been notified of the fire, but did not immediately have details.
Check back for updates.
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