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Industrial fire of hazardous materials forces evacuation near Chicago

A large fire at an industrial site with lithium batteries forced an evacuation in a Chicago suburb on Tuesday as “highly toxic” gas threatened the area, authorities said.

Residents of several blocks near 900 Benton Street in Morris, Illinois were asked to “leave your apartment now!” by the Grundy County Emergency Management Agency shortly after 12:30 CDT, the county said in a statement.

There were no injuries, officials said. The southeast side of the city was to be evacuated by 9pm. Wednesday, police said.
According to Tracey Steffes, fire chief of the Morris Fire Protection & Ambulance District, the flames of lithium batteries, ranging from cell phones to car batteries, have knocked the traditional water suppression off the table.

“When these batteries get wet, they short out, ignite and explode and that’s the problem we have,” Steffes told reporters.

Firefighters had no choice but to retreat from the flames “because of the possibility of these lithium batteries exploding,” Steffes added.

“The biggest threat we are facing right now is the smoke and fumes from that fire,” she said. “This gas is highly toxic. It is very deadly.”
Breanna Konczal, a 23-year-old nursing student living one block from the flame, said the smoke smelled of “a lot of chemicals.”

“It really stank,” she told NBC News. “I was probably only out for about five minutes and it gave me a headache and a sore throat.”

Konczal packed his bags with her cat, two dogs and a small child and arrived safely at his in-laws about 25 minutes away in Coal City.

The fire is about 60 miles southwest of downtown Chicago.

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