MORRIS, Ill. (AP) — Enough progress has been made on a fire at a northern Illinois building containing 100 tons of batteries that thousands of residents can finally return to their homes three days after they were evacuated, officials said Friday.
Firefighters in Morris poured 28 tons of cement on the burning batteries to smother hem, according to Chief Tracey Steffes, who previously warned that water or foam could cause the batteries to explode. He said the use of the cement — a tactic that, as far as he knew, had never been tried before — appeared to be working and that there was no longer any active burning at the building.
He said firefighters were monitoring the site because the batteries don’t require oxygen to burn and thus could ignite again.
At the same time, officials believe it’s safe for the 3,000 to 4,000 people who were evacuated from about 950 homes to return to their residences, both because of how effective the cement was and because of the air quality in the community.
“We have air monitoring in place, 11 sites being monitored … and it’s looking very, very good, the (air) quality,” he said.
The fire started Tuesday at what city officials believed was a long-abandoned paper mill. But when firefighters arrived, they found the batteries.
City officials, clearly angry that the batteries were being stored in the building without their knowledge, said they would push for local and state agencies to investigate. On Thursday, the Illinois Environmental Protection agency asked the state’s attorney general to pursue legal action against Superior Battery the property owner.
The company’s owner, Jin Zheng, has apologized for the fire’s effects on those who live and work nearby.
“I really feel sorry that it’s hurting the community,” he said.