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Blaze Burns Through Forest View Recycling Facility

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Firefighters spent several hours overnight battling huge flames at a southwest suburban recycling plant.

The blaze started as a small rubbish fire around 10:30 p.m. at Lakeshore Recycling Systems in Forest View. Strong winds and dry conditions helped fan the flames into a blazing inferno visible from the nearby Stevenson Expressway.

The fire damaged at least six semi-trailers and the sorting center, but spared the 40,000-square-foot Heartland recycling plant.

About 60 firefighters from 14 departments blasted the scene with water. The Chicago Fire Department sent a fire boat to help extinguish the blaze by pumping water from the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

Windy conditions made it a tough battle for firefighters. So did access to hydrants.

"The first concern that we have is the water supply. There's only one hydrant down in this area. The next one's basically almost a mile away," Forest View Fire Chief Larry Moran said. "So water is a huge issue, and the water we do have is of limited quantity, which is why we called Chicago to help with their boat that can supply a lot more water than we are through our hydrants over here."

It took until around 4 a.m. for firefighters to bring the blaze under control. Officials said crews were expected to be on the scene most of the day Wednesday, to monitor hot spots, and prevent the fire from sparking up again.

"The initial reports show the fire started in a construction and demolition recycling storage area and from there quickly spread due to the high winds of the evening," Lakeshore Recycling Systems said in a statement Tuesday morning. "The fire has been fully contained and we will continue to work with the corresponding fire departments to extinguish the remains of the fire. Safety is continually a core value at Lakeshore Recycling Systems and we will begin an investigation immediately to determine the cause as well as when to proceed with clean-up of this facility."

Moran said this was the third fire at Lakeshore Recycling in the past three years, and by far the largest. He said the company is lucky, however, as the fire did not damage a new facility on the site. The flames mostly consumed recycled trash.

"These are just large piles of recyclable garbage materials; you know, bales of cardboard and paper. Most of them sit outside, so there's degradation of products. I doubt that we would ever know exactly what caused this, but we certainly have investigators who will be looking through it," he said.

No injuries were reported.

Dozens of confused trash haulers showed up at Lakeshore Recycling around 5 a.m. but were turned away from the facility as firefighters were still dousing flames.

"I'm not gonna get to work today, or make any money," Patrick Aranowski said.

However, Aranowski admitted he'd rather be safe than sorry.

"For me, the fear would be going down the road with stuff in my truck, and it catching back on fire, and then the trucking catching on fire, and then I close down the freeway," he said.

CEO of the Lakeshore Recycling Systems, Alan Handley, said there was no lasting environmental danger because the facility does not process hazardous materials or tires.

The area of the facility that accepts materials like scrap wood, dirt, bricks and glass will be closed for the foreseable future.

Handley confirmed two previous fires there--one small one in trailer, another where a pile burned.

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