Clean-up is town's next step after major fire

Published 06/27 2013 10:43PM

Updated 06/28 2013 10:51AM

HOOPESTON -- After battling the biggest fire in the town's history, people now have to put the city back together.

"All of us are returning to our normal jobs," says Joel Bird, Assistant Fire Chief with the Hoopeston Fire Department.

It's been just over a week since the J & R Tire Plant burned down. The fire itself took a huge toll on the small town, emotionally and financially.

Some people have been concerned about the drinking water but the mayor and the EPA insist there's nothing to worry about. The water in some homes has a brown tint and slight odor.

Mayor Bill Crusinberry says that's typical when so much water is being pumped; the force loosens rust from the pipes. However the EPA says they've tested it and it's safe to drink.

If city leaders have learned one thing, it's that when a factory full of tires burns down, the aftermath is bitter. Melted tires at the scene and crumbled debris are still burning and taking a toll on the firefighters.

"It was one of those "once in a lifetime fires" for a small town like us," says Bird. "We're getting some rest, but we're still fighting the fire. It's taking a toll on us that we have to keep going out there. But we will be back out there until it stops."

That constant fighting has caused wear and tear on the equipment.

"We may have to replace all of our gear from this fire," says Bird.

Hoses used to battle the blaze now have holes in them and are now laying outside waiting to be recycled. Not to mention heat and chemicals from the plant have ruined uniforms that would have lasted several more years.

The mayor has spent 90+ hours filing insurance claims and says this blaze is costing the city more than $1 million.

"There's just so much more than putting out the fire," says Crusinberry.

He says one of the biggest concerns is safety. The EPA has been in town since the fire started. They're monitoring the air and cleaning up debris from the scene. Water runoff going into the drains is also getting filtered before flowing back into the Vermilion River.

"Smoke is an issue for some of the residents. Air quality is something we are monitoring very closely," says Crusinberry.

The EPA is waiting for permits to start cleanup and hopes to get those by next week. From the time it starts, it could be wrapped up in 30 days.

Firefighters say that $1 million number is likely to grow after they total up all the hours they've spent battling the flames last week.

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