5,000 people evacuated after Morris industrial fire
MORRIS, Ill. – Thousands of people in Morris are still out of their homes as firefighters allow a hazardous materials fire to extinguish.
Emergency crews were at the scene of a commercial building fire that forced around 5,000 residents to leave their homes on Wednesday, officials said. The evacuation ends at 9 p.m. Wednesday, but it can be extended.
The fire is located in the 900 block of East Benton Street in a building that contains electronic lithium batteries for cell phones and other devices.
Officials say a company called “Superior Batteries” caught fire in a former property of a paper mill that closed in 1980. Part of the structure was demolished, but some smaller buildings were used for it. storage on the property.
“We process between 80 and 100 tonnes of lithium batteries,” said Tracey Steffes, deputy chief of the Morris Fire Protection & Ambulance District. “So about 180,000 pounds to 200,000 pounds of lithium batteries. These batteries vary in size from your cell phone to a little larger than a car battery. And as these batteries get wet, they short circuit and ignite and explode, and that’s the problem we have.
Officials said putting water on lithium was not an option.
“We started our initial attack with water, then we learned very quickly that this was not going to be a good way to extinguish in this fire,” added Steffes.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has also advised Morris officials to ban the use of defoamers, citing that any liquid could make the fire worse.
Steffes adds that crews considered using road salt to smother the plumes of smoke.
In the aftermath of the fire, thousands of residents on the east side of Morris were evacuated.
The Grundy County Administrative Building on Union Street and the VFW Building on Route 47 will house the displaced residents. The Red Cross is also helping.
“I have four dogs,” said Jen Bamonte, a concerned Morris resident. “So obviously just the air… what they tell us about fumes and how they can be toxic.” So you know, you just worry about that. I don’t want to be anywhere around her.
Officials fear the blaze could continue into the night, but don’t expect the blaze to last as long as the recent Rockton chemical blaze.
Steffes says the blaze is much smaller, but warns the blaze was preventable.
“We want to know all of our dangers in our community,” he said. “And we know that people store things that they don’t always tell us or that we don’t know, but before these fires I didn’t know those batteries were there.”
More than 100 firefighters and rescue teams were called to the scene. No injuries were reported.