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PEORIA - Firefighters battled a blaze at Archer Daniels Midland for nearly 11 hours Wednesday after an explosion there echoed across the city early that morning.
The blast and resulting blaze caused more than a million dollars in damage, estimated Peoria Fire Department Battalion Chief Mike Morgan. No injuries were reported, though one person was transported to an area hospital as a precautionary measure.
The Peoria Fire Department initially identified the blast as having occurred in a boiler, but an ADM spokesperson said the explosion occurred in a maintenance area. The exact cause remained unclear.
"We have temporarily halted operations at the Peoria plant while we investigate the cause of the incident and the extent of the damage," spokes-woman Jackie Anderson said in a statement emailed to the (Peoria) Journal Star. "Following an initial investigation, we will determine how soon we can resume normal production at the plant. In the meantime, we will meet all customer deliveries from ADM's other corn processing facilities."
Crews first were called to the South Peoria ethanol distillery about 3:40 a.m. Flames to the external structure were out within two hours, but the last engine did not clear the scene until about 2:30 p.m.
"When we got to the scene, there was an open gas line coming in that was feeding the fire," Morgan said. "Once we got that shut down, the roof had caught on fire."
Twenty-two firefighters responded to the scene with three engines, two aerial trucks and one rescue squad.
Police shut down north-bound Southwest Washington Avenue at Chicago and southbound traffic at MacArthur Highway to set up a command post, but it was reopened by 4:30 a.m.
Alarms from the facility could be heard through a large part of south and central Peoria for nearly two hours.
"As far as the external fire, we got that all knocked down," Morgan said.
Areas inside adjoining stacks, however, caught fire and continued to burn for hours. Morgan said workers at the plant have used steam to extinguish similar fires in the past, but that steam had dissipated and could not be used to put out the fire.
Firefighters continued to battle those flames with hand lines more than five hours after the initial explosion, but the areas were difficult to access, Morgan said. Noise at the plant also proved to be an impediment to firefighters.
"The biggest problem that we had was the background noise," Morgan added. "Radio communication was tough."
The timing of the explosion may have been part of the reason why no one was injured.
"There's a lot of potential for a lot more explosions," Morgan said. "Fortunately, it was a late shift and there were not many people there."
Added Anderson, the company spokeswoman, "ADM is committed to ensuring the safety of our employees, our communities and the environment."
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