Nova-Kem chemical processing plant in Seward catches fire shortly after noon, ending more than 20 fire crews to the scene, and forcing residents out.
It started with an explosion. That drew Larry Fender out of his garage and into the street.
"It started getting a lot of heavy duty smoke," he says. "And then we got down there and we seen a couple of employees coming out of the building with hazmat suits, running. and we figured that's about the time we turned around and left because the smoke was going out across the cornfield out over the houses at the time."
Soon, police were door to door, forcing the whole town of Seward, and the surrounding two miles, out. It was no longer safe for them to be at home.
Mike Knoup, Deputy Chief of the Pecatonica Fire Department says,"they have tanks with chlorine gas in them and if they were to rupture we wanted to make sure that the public in the immediate area was evacuated."
Residents were directed north, to Pecatonica High School. Principal Todd France was called to open the building for those displaced. "Our building's fully open we've had some kids in our gym we have TVs, we have the bathroom. We're willing to help Seward any way we can," says France.
Emergency crews also took up residence in front of Pecatonica High School while they waited for commands. Fire chiefs made the decision not to fight the fire, instead, let it burn out on its own.
"The particular chemical that they manufacture here can be unstable and can explode with water," says Captain Charles Barnes, with the Rockford Fire Department's Hazmat Response Unit.
More than 8 hours after the fire started, the main building is a total loss. The structure collapsed, and is still smoldering.
The homes and streets of Seward remain abandoned tonight. Residents will not be able go back until fire crews and the Environmental Protection Agency has a chance to survey the damage. That won't happen until Monday morning.
"Nobody wants to be put out of their house at night but they're handling it well," says Knoup.
A few local fire crews will stay on site through the night to monitor the fire.
Only one person was injured, a plant employee, who was taken to an area hospital for treatment. His injuries are non-life threatening.
The Red Cross was called to assist those evacuated at Pecatonica High School. Some chose to stay with relatives, others mentioned free lodging at the Rockford Radisson hotel thanks to it's owners and the owners of Nova-Kem.
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