Area fire departments responded to fire at Erie Foods on Thursday evening

Erie Foods in Rochelle was the site of a fire early Thursday evening, Rochelle Fire Department Lt. Zach Prewett said.

Fire in mill machinery causes box alarm level, evacuation

ROCHELLE — Erie Foods in Rochelle was the site of a fire early Thursday evening, Rochelle Fire Department Lt. Zach Prewett said. 

Rochelle Fire was called to the industrial business at 1201 S. Main St. at 5:32 p.m. for the report of an active fire in mill machinery. The building was evacuated by staff on site and fire crews saw heavy black smoke on approach, which caused it to elevate the situation to the box alarm level, calling in its off-duty personnel and the Ogle-Lee Fire Protection District stations of Hillcrest, Creston, Flagg Center and Steward, along with DeKalb, Ashton and Lynn-Scott-Rock.

“We were directed to the machinery that was on fire by staff on site, and we’ve had some experience with it when they’ve had issues before,” Prewett said. “We made entry and extinguished the fire. It was confined to just that piece of machinery. We then ventilated the building with some fans and helped them to move some of the standing water out of there.”

Prewett praised Erie Foods staff for their work at the incident, as they evacuated the building and took video of the fire and showed it to fire crews before any firefighters entered the building. 

“The facility staff did a very good job,” Prewett said. “We were pretty certain where we were going. The facility staff was working on deenergizing that particular piece of equipment and anything around it that could've caused any hazard to us. And then as soon as we were able to, we turned on exhaust and ventilation fans to move the smoke out of there.”

Fires in industrial structures like Thursday’s can pose a number of hazards to firefighters, Prewett said. 

“That machinery is all run by high voltage, so there’s an electrical hazard,” Prewett said. “Also any time that there's processing, there's machinery equipment that we're not familiar with. Also in a large area like that, we have to cover a lot of ground. There's not only smoke banked down at the level we're walking, but there's also a lot of smoke up in the air which presents potential for flameover explosive from the gasses in that smoke above us. We want to make sure we’re aware of our environment and how it's different from a more standard residential-type fire for us.”

Prewett said the mill machinery will be in need of repairs and that Erie Foods staff was working Thursday night to get the facility back up and running as soon as possible after clearing, cleaning and disinfecting work. The dollar amount of damage was unclear Thursday night. 

Fire crews were on scene at Erie Foods until 7:18 p.m. Equipment failure was the likely cause of the fire, Prewett said. 

“This mill is essentially run by large belts underneath it in an enclosure,” Prewett said. “That's what had broken down before and those belts had burned up. As far as I know, that’s really the only flammable material within that machine. We had investigators on scene that were conducting a preliminary investigation to try to find out. Overall, once we were able to gather the information and get to it, it was a straightforward operation.”