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Industrial Fire In Morris Forces Evacuation That Is Expected To Continue Until Wednesday Night

MORRIS, Ill. (CBS) -- Emergency crews are still working to clear an an industrial fire involving lithium ion batteries in Morris, Illinois Wednesday.

People living in parts of Morris had to evacuate Tuesday because of an industrial fire involving lithium ion batteries, and the evacuation has been deemed mandatory for 24 hours.

At 11:42 a.m. Tuesday, the Morris Fire Department was called to the 900 block of East Benton Street for a fire at the old Federal Paper Board building, which was being used to store a large quantity of lithium batteries.

The company now at the building called Superior Battery and there were about 80 to 100 tons of batteries on the premises.

According to authorities, the evacuation was prompted by lithium batteries catching fire, which produces smoke with dangerous particulates.

Because of the health risk, officials have evacuated the southeast side of Morris – from Washington Street as far east as Evergreen Cemetery (Cemetery Road) to the east to Route 47 to the west, and from the railroad tracks on the north to the river on the south.

If you need a place to go to, the Grundy County Administration Building at 1320 Union St. is a reception area.

The evacuation is mandatory for 24 hours and is expected to conclude at 9 p.m. Wednesday, but it could be extended depending on conditions.

Anyone who sees or smells smoke should self-evacuate and report where they detected the smoke. Residents wanting to make such a report or ask questions should call (815) 941-3408.

Because it is a lithium fire, crews cannot just add water to the flames. Lithium explodes when it comes into contact with water, so they need to smother the flames.

The fire department said the only option is to let the fire burn. Firefighters will be on the scene throughout the night to maintain public safety.

"The building is doing very good. It's keeping the explosions inside. So explosions are not coming outside the building. It's keeping it contained," said Chief Tracey Steffes of the Morris Fire Department.

About 130 total fire personnel were on the scene and about 30 fire units.

A spokesperson for Gov. JB Pritzker said the Illinois National Guard had been called to assist.

The Illinois National Guard is sending 12 service members, five trucks and three trailers with chemical assessment and monitoring equipment from the 5th Civil Support Team based in Bartonville.

The mission would be to monitor air quality and do environmental assessment to see when it is safe for residents to return to their homes under the direction of the civilian incident commander.

American Red Cross volunteers also headed to Morris to support the first responders fighting the fire, providing food and water to more than 300 emergency personnel.

Red Cross volunteers have also set up a reception center and overnight shelter to assist evacuated residents at the First Christian Church, 455 W. Southmor Rd. in Morris. Masks are required at the shelter.

The Salvation Army is also at the scene.

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