It was three days of smoke and flames for Hoopeston residents, as June 2013 will be remembered for one of the worst fires in the city’s history.
Millions of gallons of water were dumped on the blaze that began around 5:30 a.m. June 19 at J and R Used Tire Service, located along Illinois Route 9 near South Market Street.
The thick black smoke — a byproduct of the burning tires — was visible for miles and forced the evacuation of a 24-square-block area amounting to about 1,000 residents.
Hoopeston Mayor Bill Crusinberry said he received the call a little before 6 a.m. that morning.
“That was one of our darkest hours,” he said of the building, which at one time had housed FMC, Hoopeston’s main employer for more than 80 years.
It took three days of manned trucks at the 400,000 square foot building before the fire was considered extinguished late Friday. Overall, as many as 24 departments and up to 150 firefighters were called in for mutual aid in fighting the blaze.
While it initially seemed like a dark time for the city, Crusinberry said it ended as a proud moment for Hoopeston as local residents — also joined by people and businesses around the county — provided an outpouring of support for first responders.
He said word went out quickly on Facebook and via word of mouth about what was needed at the fire scene. Soon, people were driving up to both the north- and south-end headquarters to drop off various kinds of food and water.
“It showed the people of Hoopeston at their finest,” he said. “The cars just kept coming and coming.”
Employees at Menard’s in Danville sent a pickup truck filled with bottled water to the scene for emergency personnel.
“It was one of the most remarkable things,” Crusinberry said.
While the main work battling the fire lasted three days, Hoopeston firefighters remained on call for at least a couple weeks afterward responding to signs of hot spots popping up in the blocks of rubble that remained on the scene.
It was a costly fire for the Hoopeston Fire Department, according to Chief Cliff Crabtree. In the end, the department had to replace 18 sets of firefighter gear and 4,000 feet of different sized hose that was damaged in the fire.
The final price tag: more than $150,000.
But for a young department with a majority of personnel with less than 10 years of experience, Crabtree said the fire provided an opportunity as well.
“Every fire is a learning experience,” he said. “They learned a lot in a hurry those days.”
While the flames are gone and the structure leveled as of this fall, questions about the effects of the fire remain.
Because of the burning tires and the effect on the ground and water supply, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency became involved soon after the blaze was first reported.
Crusinberry said the City of Hoopeston contacted the IEPA earlier in December about when the property would be released by the state agency’s control. So far, city officials have not gotten a final answer from the state.
“There were a few more things to do before they released it from their control,” he said.
Among those are boring into the ground to check the status of soil at the site of the fire and looking at cleaning sediment at the bottom of a retention pond where water used to fight the fire drained to from the site of the blaze.
Crusinberry said the owner, Rodney Rogers, has contacted Hoopeston city officials about making the large property available to the city for storage. But he said Hoopeston, at this point, is not in need of outdoor storage.