'Biggest fire I've ever seen': Wisconsin firefighters help battle Rockton chemical fire

NOW: ’Biggest fire I’ve ever seen’: Wisconsin firefighters help battle Rockton chemical fire

ROCKTON, Ill. (CBS 58) -- A large fire south of the Wisconsin border is still burning more than a day later. On Monday, Illinois fire officials called in reinforcements to fight the chemical fire at a plant in Rockton, Illinois.

Multiple departments from Walworth County, including the City of Delavan Fire Department, answered. Four firefighters from Delavan responded to the scene, which is 27 miles away. They got the call around 8:20 a.m. Monday morning and returned to Delavan around 7:30 p.m.

They described hearing several explosions as they battled the fire and said they had never seen such large mushroom clouds.

"All the way down there, the plume was getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And we're like, 'Oh my god how big is this place?' and so we started Googling on the way. And it's not like anything I've ever seen before in my life," said Delavan Fire Capt. John O'Neill.

O'Neill and his sister, firefighter Jennifer O'Neill, both responded to the scene along with two other firefighters from their department.

"We were able to see the plume from here (in Delavan). I've never been able to see a fire that far out before," she said. "In my 19 years in the fire service, I have not seen a fire that big ever, so it was definitely the biggest fire I've ever seen."

Delavan firefighters pumped and sprayed water on the scene.

The fire at the Chemtool plant in Rockton started around 7 a.m. Monday.

Kirk Wilson, chief of the Rockton Fire Protection District, held a news conference Tuesday morning.

"We have a industrial firefighting crew from Louisiana that has showed up at the scene. They have actually dug trenches along the west side of Chemtool to act as a block of any type of residual material that might go into the Rock River. The other thing that is underway at this point in time is there are observant booms that are being placed in the river just in case there is any product release. This is strictly for precautionary measures, but we want to make sure all of that is in place before we start to do the actual fire fight," he said.

People within one mile of the plant were evacuated, and people within three miles are being asked to wear masks.

"Protect your lungs. We have just come through a pandemic, and many of us have had to wear masks to protect ourselves. This is the way we can do it," said Dr. Sandra Martell, public health administrator for Winnebago County.

Delavan firefighters said the warm day and the large amounts of fire made for the biggest challenges. They said there was good cooperation between departments.

"Even though we weren't able to save the building, there are a lot of lives saved yesterday. That's why we get into this," Jennifer O'Neill said.

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