Rockton evacuation order lifted, residents allowed to return home after chemical fire

ROCKTON, Ill. — After several days of being kept out of their homes, people living within one mile of the chemical plant near the Wisconsin-Illinois border that has been burning for much of the week will be allowed to return home Friday.

Officials announced Friday morning the evacuation order that has been in place since Monday morning is being lifted. Local police and public works will be helping people return home.

Health officials are continuing to monitor the possible health effects of the fire, but say the Illinois state EPA lab confirmed there are no compounds or chemicals of concern in the air at this time.

“This is going to be an ongoing environmental scenario,” Winnebago County Public Health director Dr. Sandra Martell said Friday. “We’re going to continue the air, land and water monitoring throughout this whole scenario. You are going to see our devices out in the community.”

Officials say they recognize this has been a taxing week for people who live in the area but haven’t been allowed back home.

“You can imagine it’s been extremely stressful for htem throughout this evacuation period,” Dr. Martell said. “Not knowing what’s going (on), is it safe? Is my home going to be safe when I return?”

Officials say they will help canvass the neighborhood to help people move back in and provide advice on things like how to safely restarting air conditioning units, clean grills and pools, and take care of pets. They recommend people still wear masks and gloves when cleaning debris from their property.

Fire Chief Kirk Wilson says the investigation into what caused the explosion and fire is still ongoing, but federal agencies have determined there was no suspicious or criminal activity that caused it.