Fire officials to turn Hoopeston property over to owner

HOOPESTON — Fire officials who fought a massive blaze at a tire recycling facility in Hoopeston planned to turn the fire scene over to the property owners at 5 p.m. today.

Hoopeston Fire Chief Cliff Crabtree said firefighters were finally able to extinguish the hot spots at the J&R Used Tire Service Inc. shortly before 3 p.m. nearly 2 1/2 days after the fire started.

"We're going to hand control of the scene over to the property owner, and he, in turn, is going to turn it over to an excavating company that will clean up the site," Crabtree said, referring to Rodney Rogers, who owns the business with his wife, Janie.

Crabtree said the excavating company will install a fence around the perimeter of the 12-acre site, at 103 Maple St., to secure it. The company will raze what's left of the 360,000-square-foot building, which the fire reduced to a mountainous pile of debris.

A timetable for the cleanup was not available.

Crabtree said firefighters from all over East Central Illinois and western Indiana remained on the scene today putting out hot spots that ignited, but with only about 40 or so working at a time.

"We're probably going to continue to fight hot spots into the weekend and possibly into next week," Crabtree said, adding crews and firefighting equipment will remain on the scene.

Other firefighters were in the process of packing up their equipment, he said.

"The support we've gotten from our fellow firefighters has been overwhelming," said Crabtree, who leads a volunteer department of 17 members. "There's no way we could have handled this without their help and the help of all of the volunteers and people who brought donations."

Hoopeston Police Chief Mark Drollinger said residents who were evacuated on Wednesday are all back in their homes. He added that Illinois 9 — Orange Street in town — would be opened to traffic later in the day.

The recycling business is one of two used-tire processors in central Illinois, according to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency website. It employed about 30 people.

The fire broke out around 5:20 a.m. Wednesday and quickly spread throughout the building, which housed vehicle, semitractor trailer and tractor tires and an even larger amount of shredded rubber that would be recycled into mulch and other products, as well as shredding and granulating equipment.

The Illinois fire marshal ruled the fire was accidental due to static electricity that occurred when employees were working early Wednesday morning.

The fire caused the evacuation of a six- or seven-block by four-block area west of the facility and shut down the CSX railroad for 24 hours.

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