Fire damages asphalt plant in Rantoul
RANTOUL — Fire early Thursday destroyed a pump shed used by an area construction firm in its asphalt operation.
Assistant Rantoul Fire Chief Kevin Kaiser said damage could exceed $40,000 to $50,000 for Cross Construction Co., which has its own asphalt plant at Chandler Road and U.S. 45 on the south side of the village.
Firefighters were called there at 1:23 a.m., Kaiser said.
"There was a steel shed on fire with a 100-gallon oil tank inside," he said.
That tank has a pump on it, which heats the oil and injects it into two other 20,000-gallon tanks that hold a combination of oil and blacktop.
Those larger tanks, which Kaiser estimated are 15 to 20 feet long, were located side by side just north of the pump shed.
Kaiser said the construction company shut down the asphalt operation for the winter and had only fired it back up about 10 days ago in anticipation of a job it was going to do in Danville Thursday.
The product, he explained, has to be heated and maintained at 350 degrees so that it will flow through pipes from the tanks to the trucks that transport the asphalt to a work site.
Kaiser said firefighters could see a huge cloud of smoke as they pulled up but weren't sure exactly what they were dealing with.
"It looked like it was getting ready to blow so we shut down U.S. 45," he said.
They then put out a call for other fire departments to help tank water to the asphalt plant from the Wal-Mart on the west side of town.
"We made a big loop. The tankers filled at Wal-Mart, came down U.S. 136 to 45 to the site and then back. We always had three to four tankers dumping or waiting to dump water," he said. "Once we got everything set up, it was pretty smooth."
The fire, which started near the motor for the transfer pump, had already brought down the steel shed by the time firefighters arrived. Their first priority was to get water on the nearby large tanks holding the oil-blacktop mix to keep them cool.
"We were lucky the tanks never exploded," Kaiser said, adding that none of the product leaked out, either.
There was product that had been on the ground from previous spills, he said, which flamed up.
Kaiser said firefighters know that the fire started at the pump motor but they don't know why. He said it was accidental and could have been caused by an electrical or mechanical malfunction.
A firefighter received a stretched tricep muscle when he tripped over a line and tried to catch himself as he fell. He was not seriously injured.
Assisting Rantoul were the Sangamon Valley, Thomasboro, Ludlow, Cornbelt, Ogden, Royal and Paxton fire departments.
Kaiser said firefighters cleared the scene about 4:30 a.m.