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Recycling plant fire draws attention from the EPA

Posted on by SST

An Illinois facility that stores rubber tires caught fire after a spark ignited debris near the loading dock Jun 20.

The Hoopeston Chronicle reported fire crews responded to a fire at the J&R Used Tire Service factory in Hoopeston, Ill. According to Cliff Crabtree, the Hoopeston fire chief, firefighters received notification of the fire at approximately 5:30 a.m. He said they were on the scene within minutes, but that the building was completely engulfed. It was unclear if there was an updated fire alarm system installed in the facility.

Throughout the two day battle, Crabtree was joined by the ​Iroquois, Champaign and Vermilion county fire departments, as well as the Hoopeston Emergency Management Agency and the Hoopeston Ambulance service. All five employees at the facility at the time of the fire were able to evacuate the building without any injuries. However, the intensity of the fire prompted the declaration of a state of emergency for the southwest region of Hoopeston by Mayor Bill Crusinberry and Scott Strawser, a coordinator at the Hoopeston Emergency Management Agency. They released a statement announcing the designation:

"…[B]y reason of the conditions which are imminent due to J&R Tire fire anticipated impact on the City of Hoopeston which may affect the health, safety and welfare of the people of the City of Hoopeston and whereas, it has been determined that these areas of the City of Hoopeston should then be declared disaster areas." The statement further notes that, in order to maintain safety and order, the southwest region of the city of Hoopeston shall be vacated. 

Nearly 500 homes were evacuated over concerns of air quality due to the massive plumes of black smoke that were carried into the city by the wind. Officials from J&R Used Tire estimated a loss between $10 million and $15 million as a result of the destruction.

The Illinois State Fire Marshall's office determined the fire to be accidental, and the cause of the fire was most likely a spark stemming from a static electric discharge igniting debris or dust. The fire quickly spread throughout the facility where thousands of tractor, semi and car tires were stored.

Nearby residents reported hearing a number of explosions that, according to Lance Smith, the general manager of the factory, can be attributed to propane tanks used to fuel forklifts.

Big trouble in little Illinois
The 400,000 square foot facility prompted the arrival of Illinois Environmental Protection Agency officials who shared concerns over air quality and the effect of water-run off from the two-day battle firefighters endured extinguishing the blaze, according to the The Daily Journal.

The IEPA visited the J&R facility last year and found them in violation of multiple safety standards, including reporting discrepancies concerning the amount of materials stored at the plant as well as a failure to provide an emergency response plan to local officials. The IEPA has plans to halt further operations on the J&R site as a result.

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