HOOPESTON — More than two months after a massive tire fire in Hoopeston, the cleanup is not complete, but it's moving along well, according to Hoopeston Mayor Bill Crusinberry.
"It's better than expected," said Crusinberry, who wasn't sure what to expect soon after the June 19 fire tore through J&R Used Tire Service Inc., 103 Maple St., and continued burning for days.
The blaze produced a massive heavy black smoke plume and led to the evacuation of hundreds of nearby residences in Hoopeston, the closure of Illinois 9 for three days and the closure of the CSX railroad line for 24 hours. It also caused a fish kill in a nearby creek and required more than 100 volunteer and full-time firefighters from more than 20 fire departments in the area to work in shifts around the clock for at least two days, and a smaller contingent to continue on standby or remain on call for weeks to continue putting out hot spots.
The owners of J&R, Rodney and Janie Rogers of Potomac, hired a private contractor to do the cleanup, which began several weeks ago. The contractor has been using multiple excavators and semitrailers to pick up massive piles of debris and haul them away, separating out salvageable material and taking the rest to landfills.
Now, most of the debris has been removed from the site that included an almost 400,000-square-foot building — some of which still stands. That will be the next to come down, according to Crusinberry. All that will be left after that is a concrete pad that state EPA officials have said fortunately kept the contaminated runoff from seeping into the soil below.
The business had housed more than 50,000 tires in addition to several large piles of shredded tires and tire pieces, like sidewalls and treads; as well as a tank with 1,500 gallons of fuel and three diesel tanks with 500 gallons of fuel each, for a total of 3,000 gallons of fuel on the property.
Static electricity from maintenance being done on a processing machine early in the morning of June 19 ignited dust and tire-processing fluff, causing the fire, according to the Illinois fire marshal's office.
About five days after the fire started, the Illinois attorney general's office filed an injunction in Vermilion County Circuit Court at the request of the Illinois EPA asking the court to stop the business from accepting any more tires or tire material or operating its facility on Maple Street until it developed, implemented and completed a cleanup plan approved by the state EPA to prevent and take care of any hazards to human health and the environment.
The complaint alleged one count of air pollution and one count of water pollution and includes the possibility of more than $100,000 in fines. Scott Mulford, a spokesman with the attorney general's office, was unable to provide an update Thursday on the legal case and possible fines.
The Illinois EPA is overseeing the cleanup, and Crusinberry said the agency has regularly given him progress reports.
Andrew Mason, spokesman for the state EPA, said the cleanup is on schedule, and about half of the site has been cleared. The entire cleanup should be complete within six to eight weeks, he said.
Mason said contamination is no longer a concern in a ditch south of the site that took in all the runoff. Early runoff to that ditch is what led to the fish kill. But in the early firefighting effort, EPA officials and city workers built a dam along that ditch to contain the runoff, allowing equipment to be brought in to treat that water and then slowly release it. Crusinberry said damming that ditch quickly protected the area from an even larger fish kill.
That treatment process continued for weeks after the fire, but according to Mason, that is no longer necessary and no longer a concern.
The Hoopeston Fire Department — and others, like Rossville, that provided mutual aid — had a lot of ruined equipment in the fire, including protective gear for firefighters and hoses. The fire also required a lot of additional hours for Hoopeston city workers. Crusinberry said all costs to the city, including the ruined fire equipment, totals nearly $250,000. He said city and fire department insurance has covered some of the cost, and the city is submitting the rest to the owners' insurance.
"We are hoping it will come through," Crusinberry said of the owners' insurance.