McCOOK – A fire that ignited over two weeks ago is still burning – but barely – at a outdoor yard that holds mulch in the village of McCook.
Authorities believe the fire started spontaneously in the early morning hours of Dec. 28. Mulch is known to catch fire from combustible heat as the material dries. The heat produced inside the piles during the drying process can heat up enough to suddenly produce fire.
According to McCook Fire Chief Joseph Myrick, the fire is almost out, as crews have been covering it with dirt. The situation is still being monitored, he said.
"Right now it's all covered in dirt," Myrick said Monday. "I go out there a couple of times a day to check on it."
According to Myrick, the dirt crews have been using to cover the fire should prevent some of the heavy smoke that has been fouling the air around McCook. Resident in McCook and in Lyons have complained about the smokey smell that has been in the air since the fire started.
"There shouldn't be anymore smoke," Myrick said. "It's about out."
Myrick said that he didn't know exactly when the fire would be completely extinguished.
According to McCook Mayor Jeff Tobolski, the mulch pile that caught fire is located in a section far from the entrance of Perfect Mulch, a 2.5-acre yard that houses mulch. Fire crews were initially unable to get to the section on fire, because other piles of mulch prevented their path.
Firefighters eventually went around the mulch yard to gain access from the back and put water on the fire for 27 hours before calling in expert help. The fire is considered to be in a controlled burn and does not present a danger to residents or businesses in the area, according to Tobolski.
Tobolski, who also serves as Cook County commissioner for the 16th District, called in support from the Department of Homeland Security and from the Cook County Forest Preserve District.
"It's like fighting a forest fire," Tobolski said. "It just keeps burning and it takes a long time to [completely] put it out."
The village has continued to monitor the situation, but is no longer taking an active role in extinguishing the fire, Tobolski said. Currently, extinguishing the fire is the responsibility of Lemont-based Perfect Mulch's insurer, Rockwood Insurance Company, and a private contractor, TGF Forestry and Fire, a company with experience in putting out fires of this type.
Due to the nature of the fire, Tobolski said there was not much the village could do but wait. He said the village is aware of complaints from residents about the smell, but said that he believes the fire will be out by the end of the weekend.
The village also consulted with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which conducted an investigation of the fire, Tobolski said.
According to the village, any potential smoke inhalation claims can be directed to Rockwood Insurance Company at 312-602-5240.