BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
Crews walked across yards and lots on Wednesday, looking for the remains of last week’s immense fire that consumed J & R Used Tires.
Andrew Mason, a spokesman for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, indicated an environmental contractor retained by the federal EPA was around the site of last week’s fire at J & R Used Tire Service in Hoopeston.
Crews were going door-to-door attempting to collect debris that spread as a result of the large fire. A threesome of employees with Environmental Restoration, headquartered in St. Louis, Mo., was going through the yard surrounding Fortees Apartments.
The apartment building — located on First Street immediately west of J & R Used Tire Service — took the brunt of the smoke produced by the blaze last week, at times almost enveloped in the thick black plume produced by the fire.
Staff with the IEPA also remained on-site Wednesday assisting with clean up.
Millions of gallons of water were dumped on the blaze that began around 5:30 a.m. June 19. It took three days of manned trucks at the 400,000 square foot building before the fire was considered extinguished on Friday. Overall, as many as 24 departments and up to 150 firefighters were called in for mutual aid in fighting the blaze.
The thick black smoke — a by-product of the burning tires — was visible for miles and forced the evacuation of a 24-square-block area amounting to about 1,000 residents.
According to Mason, the federal EPA sampling was continuing in the city, but recent tests for airborne asbestos has come back negative. Air particle levels now are exceeding normal levels only around the fire scene itself.
He noted that the fire — a week later — continues to smolder in some areas.
Clean up efforts continued away from the fire scene this week when, on Tuesday, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office formally filed legal action announced by the IEPA last week.
A motion for preliminary injunction, filed in the Vermilion County Circuit Clerk’s Office, asks the court to prevent J & R Used Tires from any operations until it has formulated an IEPA-approved plan to remediate and prevent hazards to human health and environment as well as to properly dispose of all wastes.
J & R Used Tires also faces a fine of no more than $50,000 per violation of state statutes.
As part of the lawsuit, IEPA field inspector Curt White provided affidavit information that run-off water from the scene of the fire caused around 2,000 fish to be killed in an unnamed tributary of the North Fork of the Vermilion River.
The water was dammed to prevent any further fish deaths. EPA officials, as of Friday, were filtering the water before allowing it to flow downstream.
If left unremediated, the facility poses an “imminent and significant threat to the environment and to public health,” according to White’s statement.
No hearing date has been set in the case.