Everyone pitches in during massive fire

HOOPESTON -- The fire chief says it looks like the blaze at J & R Recycling won't be out for at least another day. Crews are still on scene of one of the area's biggest fires.

Investigators believe it started inside the business about 5:30 Wednesday. It's on Illinois Route 9 near Market Street. WCIA-3's Amanda Porterfield finds out how crews will cope.

It started early in the morning, but a half-day later, billows of black smoke from J & R Recycling can be seen miles away.

"For a volunteer department of 17 guys, this is a huge fire for us. We drill twice a week."

But, no amount of training could prepare them for a fire like this. Hundreds of firefighters from 16 different departments helped out, either pumping water or putting out hot spots.

"Thank God the weather stayed in the mid-80's. We had local people bringing in food and water to keep the guys hydrated."

At the command center, the woman running the show isn't even from this town. Paige Brown's husband and two kids are volunteer firefighters. While they were battling, she was organizing.

"I put a message on Facebook to all my friends and they've gone above and beyond all day long."

Brown says she wasn't surprised. Whether it's people bringing food, drinks or ice, working together is just one of those cool things that happens in a small town.

"Seems like tragedy or something like this brings people together and brings out the best in people."

She should know. Her Rossville restaurant burned down six weeks ago.

"I know how appreciative I was when the community supported us, and the least I can do is come and support them."

"Volunteers are a wonderful group. They don't ask for anything other than they want to serve the community."

Even though they didn't ask for any of it, it's here, just like that. It's support which nearly brings the man who is trained to take the heat to tears.

"It's overwhelming the support we get. It's just overwhelming."

That support will get these firefighters through the next 36-hours or as long as the smoke covers up the sun. The fire chief says the city pumped in about one-and-a-half million gallons of water.

Farmers from all over the area brought in truckloads of water on their own. Since they've been pumping so much water, residents may notice the water is a little brown, but he says it's still potable. There's no boil order.

Firefighters will rotate in and out throughout the night. Crews have been taking down the building and moving out debris, hitting it with water as they go.

17-departments responded to the blaze which means hundreds of firefighters. It started when a spark ignited dust on a conveyor belt. A worker was trying to fix it at the time.

One worker was treated for smoke inhalation, but is okay. Some residents are returning home after being evacuated. People within a mile of the fire were forced to leave. Just a few stayed in an overnight shelter set up at the First Church of God by the Red Cross.

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