Tim Olk drove to Hoopeston, IL (2 hours south of Chicago) to photograph an enormous fire in a large tire recycling facility.

large tire fire in Hoopeston IL

Tin Olk photo

The News-Gazette 

has this story:

HOOPESTON — Scores of firefighters from Vermilion and Iroquois counties continue to battle a blaze which broke out in large tire recycling facility early Wednesday morning.

Some officials fear the fire could burn for days.

Firefighters were called to the fire at J&R Used Tire Service Inc. at 103 Maple St. at 5:20 a.m. When they arrived, the south end of the 400,000-square-foot brick facility was engulfed in flames.

“From the very beginning, it’s just been an overwhelming day,” Hoopeston Fire Chief Cliff Crabtree said around 11 a.m., adding firefighters were just starting to bring the fire under control at that time.

“We knew when we first got on the scene that we were going to have to take a defensive approach because of the type of fire it was,” he continued, adding the building was filled with tires. “Unfortunately, in this circumstance, … you lose the whole building.”

About five employees of the business, owned by Rodney and Janie Rogers, were at work when the fire broke out, but they managed to escape without injury, said Lance Smith, Rodney Rogers’ brother. He said one man was taken to a local hospital for possible smoke inhalation, but he was released later in the morning.

“I expect to be here another 24 to 36 hours,” he said.

Other officials said tire fires could burn for several days.

Shortly after the fire broke out, police evacuated homes and apartment buildings on Maple, Market and Lincoln streets, First Avenue and parts of Second and Third avenues not quite a mile west of the recycling facility, Police Chief Mark Drollinger said. Residents were taken to emergency shelters at Hoopeston Area High School and several local churches.

The Danville Fire Department’s hazardous materials team was also on the scene monitoring the air quality.

Rogers said he spent most of Wednesday talking to insurance officials and coordinating a restart of the business by Friday if the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency gives him approval to restart. He said other recyclers have stepped up to offer assistance to keep his business going that collects tires from almost 1,000 clients in Illinois and Indiana.

Smoke from the fire could be seen as far away as the Bismarck area, about 20 miles south; it looked like dark blue thunderclouds rolling across the horizon. Closer to town, the smell of burning rubber filled the air.

The blaze was being fought by departments from Hoopeston, East Lynn, Wellington, Bismarck, Rossville, Rankin, Potomac, Bluegrass, Danville, Milford, Watseka and other surrounding areas. Firefighters were not only attacking the fire, but also hauling water in from the city, a local bottled-water company, Hoopeston Foods, East Lynn Fertilizer and Crop Production Services, Crabtree said. He also said area farmers were trucking in water in semis. They filled large portable water tanks at various locations to keep a continuous supply of water to the pumpers.

The Red Cross and others were also setting up air-conditioned tents to keep firefighters from being overcome with heat exhaustion.

“The only thing more overwhelming than the fire is the support from the community,” Crabtree said. “Phones have been ringing off the hook from people wanting to donate. They’re taking water and sandwiches around to people on golf carts so the guys on the line don’t have to leave. I can’t thank the people of Hoopeston and the surrounding areas enough.”

“We’ve been told this fire will be going on for several days,” Drollinger said on Wednesday night.

“For this city, it is probably the largest fire Hoopeston has ever seen. It has posed challenges for first responders since it is happening in a residential area.

Ted Fisher, director of the Vermilion County Emergency Management Agency, said  a voluntary evacuation order had been issued for people who lived in the area of the fire.

Smith said the company, which currently has 38 employees, is one of the largest scrap tire haulers and recyclers in the state and has 800 customers in Illinois and Indiana. The company recycles car, semitrailer truck and tractor tires, separates the rubber from metal and other materials, shreds and granulates the rubber and turns it into playground surfaces and mulch, among other products. He said the semi tires are also used to create caution barrels used by road construction crews.

Smith said employees noticed the fire shortly after 5 a.m. and immediately called 911. They also tried to put out the flames with fire extinguishers and a hose attached to an on-site water tank.

But “it took off so quick,” said Smith, who doesn’t know how the fire started. “Water is not really good for extinguishing rubber fires.”

“This is the worst fire I’ve seen in my life,” said Inman, a 51-year resident.

large tire fire in Hoopeston IL

Tin Olk photo

large tire fire in Hoopeston IL

Tin Olk photo

large tire fire in Hoopeston IL

Tin Olk photo