At least 3K ordered to evacuate as factory containing lithium batteries continues to burn

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At least 3,000 people in Morris, Ill., Have been ordered to evacuate as a former factory containing nearly 100 tons of lithium batteries continues to burn after a fire started on Tuesday.

The evacuation orders, which were to last until Wednesday, were extended until Thursday by municipal authorities. The fire, caused by the explosion of lithium batteries, gives off toxic fumes, according to the Associated Press.

Residents living in around 950 neighboring houses have been ordered to leave along with those from a nearby school, church and small businesses. People can go home at 9 p.m. Thursday.

“I am so sorry that this is hurting the community,” building owner Jin Zheng told The Associated Press. Zheng’s Superior Battery Company owns the site.

It was believed that the old stationery building was abandoned, but Zheng was storing the batteries in the hopes of starting a business to sell them along with solar panels.

For more Associated Press reporting, see below:

At least 3,000 people in Illinois have been ordered to evacuate as an old factory containing tons of lithium batteries continues to burn. In this photo, a rechargeable lithium-ion battery for the Volkswagen ID.3 electric car is pictured at the Volkswagen car plant in Zwickau, eastern Germany, February 25, 2020.
Ronny Hartmann / AFP via Getty Images

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday asked the state attorney general to take legal action against Superior Battery for contaminants released to air and water as well as poor waste management.

Zheng said he initially focused on the slow repair of the old mill that he planned to use as a warehouse.

He said the site had no electricity or water when he bought it three years ago and needed roof and foundation repairs. Zheng said he had also moved to Morris from Chicago and felt bad about the fire’s effects on his neighbors.

The blaze continued to burn Thursday morning about 115 kilometers southwest of Chicago, and residents will now not be allowed to return home until 9 p.m. Thursday, officials said. An earlier order was scheduled to end at 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Firefighters said they decided to let the blaze go out because they feared that trying to put it out could cause more explosions.

The building, to the surprise of firefighters and other city agencies, was used to store lithium batteries ranging from cell phone batteries to large car batteries.

Mayor Chris Brown said the city did not know the building was used to store batteries until it caught fire, and that he knows very little about Superior Battery.

The mayor said the police department will investigate the storage of the batteries and other agencies, including the state fire marshal and the Illinois attorney general’s office, have already been contacted.

Zheng said he hopes some of the items stored inside the building will survive the fire and that he can sell them to raise money for a cleanup.

“I will definitely be responsible for cleaning it up, trying to clean it as much as possible,” he said. “I won’t run away. What happened has happened. I have to face it.”

The Morris fire came two weeks after explosions and a massive fire at a chemical plant near Rockton, an Illinois town along the Wisconsin border, forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes for several days . No one at the factory or in the surrounding community was injured in the June 13 fire, which officials said was accidentally started during maintenance work.


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