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Industrial fire in suburban Chicago prompts evacuation order

June 29, 2021 GMT

MORRIS, Ill. (AP) — An industrial fire at a suburban Chicago warehouse where large batteries are stored prompted officials to order the evacuation of nearby residences Tuesday.

Nick Doefler, a spokesman for the agencies responding to the fire, said there were no reported injuries related to the fire at a subdivided warehouse in Morris that used to be a paper mill. The blaze started at around noon.

He said firefighters at the scene were awaiting instructions on how to combat the blaze, explaining that because the batteries are inside, they can’t extinguish it with water.

“We were advised that we’re dealing with between 80 and 100 tons of lithium batteries, so around 180,000 pounds to 200,000 pounds of lithium batteries,” said Morris Fire Protection & Ambulance District Chief Tracey Steffes. “These batteries range in size from your cell phone to a little bigger than a car battery and as these batteries get wet, they short out and they ignite and explode. And that’s the problem we’re having.″

Another hazard firefighters are dealing with is the fumes from the fire, Steffes said.

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In the meantime, the Grundy County Emergency Management Agency issued an order for those living in the immediate vicinity — on the 900 blocks of Benton, Douglas and Armstrong streets as well as those who live on East Street — to “please evacuate your residence now.” Morris is about 68 miles (110 kilometers) southwest of Chicago.

Doefler said the order was made out of concern about the effects of breathing the smoke from the fire. He did not immediately know how many people are affected by the evacuation order.

He said the cause of the fire has not been determined.

The evacuation comes two weeks after an explosion and massive fire at a chemical plant near Rockton, an Illinois community along the Wisconsin border, forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes for several days as the fire burned. Nobody at the plant or the surrounding community was injured by the June 13 fire that officials later determined was started accidentally during maintenance work.

“One good thing about the Rockton fire is there’s been some resources very close to us, that would not have been here if the Rockton fire hadn’t happened,” Steffes said, adding that the Morris fire is on a smaller scale and different from the Rockton plant fire.