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Official: Chemtool fire began accidentally amid piping work

June 26, 2021 GMT
Flames and smoke are seen from an explosion at a chemical plant in Rockton, Ill., Monday, June 14, 2021. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune via AP)
Flames and smoke are seen from an explosion at a chemical plant in Rockton, Ill., Monday, June 14, 2021. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune via AP)

ROCKTON, Ill. (AP) — A fire that heavily damaged a chemical plant in northern Illinois and forced the evacuation of nearby homes and businesses was accidentally started, an official announced Friday.

Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson said in a press release that the June 13 fire at the Chemtool plant started as contractors were replacing insulation on an elevated heat transfer piping network. The system heats vessels used in manufacturing lubricating greases.

“At the present time, the most credible scenario is that the scissor lift struck a valve or other piece of piping with sufficient mechanical force to cause the release of mineral oil,” Wilson said in the release. “Chemtool operators promptly detected the release and shut down the boiler. They were in the process of placing containment booms, as well as de-pressuring the heat transfer piping network, when the fire ignited.”

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Wilson did not say what ignited the oil, and he was not available for further comment.

The explosions and resulting fires that burned for several days prompted officials to evacuate an estimated 1,000 residents who lived within a 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) radius of the plant and to urge anyone within 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) to wear masks due to the threat posed by airborne impurities.

While the cause of the explosion remains under investigation, Wilson has said there was no immediate indication of any suspicious or criminal activity involved.

Nobody at the plant or in the nearby community, located near the Illinois-Wisconsin state line, was injured, officials have said.