Smoke from an Illinois warehouse fire is a cause for concern

MADISON, Illinois — The massive fire at a metal recycling warehouse in Madison, Illinois has now been referred to Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul for possible enforcement action.

The fire is still smoldering a week after it started. Firefighters made about three round trips every 24 hours.

“We dump 3,000 gallons of water on each one,” Madison Fire Chief David Klee said. “We do what we can with it. We just can’t reach the source of the fire yet.”

A cleaning company hired by business owner Interco must start work, exposing the lowest debris before a final clearing can take place, the boss said.

The cause of the fire is not yet known, but residents and first responders are keen to know what’s in the smoke. Residents wonder what they breathed.

Leonard Latham used a blower to blast any trace of it out of his fiancee’s air conditioner.

“She says she still smells it. You still haven’t said what’s going on. What was in those chemicals? You know, it was toxic stuff,” Latham said. “They don’t say how high it was or anything, and people here have respiratory diseases.”

His fiancee has asthma. So is Wesley Ware’s wife across the street.

“I still don’t know what we were breathing over there. That’s it. What do we have that has come into us, that we have breathed into our bodies?” Ware said.

You can see the same discoloration pattern on the siding at several houses near the crime scene. It looks almost like chicken pox: dark, circular spots on the sides of the houses; generally look in the same direction.

Mist from water used to fight fires could have caught particles from the smoke and blown them onto homes, Klee said.

The EPA conducted air sampling around the site and reported that nonferrous metals, complex alloys, metal powders, lithium-ion batteries, and scrap computer parts, among other things, were burning in the warehouse.

Local residents and the nearly 200 first responders who worked on site need to know what these air samples show, Klee said.

The Illinois EPA told him Wednesday that test results were coming soon.

“Every day. It’s been a week now, so it’s time,” said Klee. “We will have answers. We’ll give them a plan once we find out if they’ve been exposed to what they’ve been exposed to, not only in terms of health, but (for) property cleanup.”

The EPA made the following statement to FOX 2 on Wednesday:

EPA halted all aerial surveys and sampling and left the site on Friday, August 12. EPA air samples taken during the reaction have been sent to a lab, and the EPA expects results in the next two weeks. For more information on the EPA’s response over the past week, please visit our website:

If residents have health concerns, they can contact the Madison County Health Department or the Illinois Department of Public Health at 217-782-5830 or email:

The Madison County Emergency Management Agency also posted a FAQ for residents on their Facebook page about possible smoke inhalation conditions, cleaning indoor and outdoor surfaces, and more.

AG Raoul has not yet commented on any enforcement action taken against Interco. Smoke from an Illinois warehouse fire is a cause for concern

Sarah Y. Kim

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