HOOPESTON — More than 24 hours after being evacuated from their home early Wednesday morning, Debbie Clayburn and her five family members returned around noon Thursday to their house on Chestnut Street, about a block from the massive tire fire that churned out a heavy black smoke that enveloped their property and others on Wednesday.
"Our house, it has black soot all over it," said Clayburn, who spent Wednesday night in the shelter the Red Cross set up in a Hoopeston church. The family originally fled to Clayburn's daughter's house across town but later took advantage of the shelter so everyone would have a bed for the night.
By late morning Thursday, U.S. and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency officials had determined that the air quality at their residence and others in the several blocks that were evacuated was safe enough to allow people to return. But Clayburn said they're really not supposed to go into their yard, because it's also covered with black soot that gets all over their feet, and much lighter smoke is still drifting into the area.
Sally and Edward Lake and Edward's mother live in the 200 block of West Lincoln Street, also about a block from the fire. They weren't evacuated Wednesday, because the wind was blowing smoke away from their house.
But Thursday, the wind wasn't as kind, blowing smoke their direction, and although not as thick and toxic as the day before, Sally Lake said it was still bad. They were keeping all their windows closed Thursday afternoon and had exhaust fans running.
Sally Lake said the rancid smell was making her a little nauseous. They picked up some paper paint masks at a local store for her mother-in-law, who has health issues, said Lake, who wears one when she goes out in the yard.
"It's better than straight air, I guess," Lake said.