A 25,000 square-foot plant in Plainfield, a few miles north of Waverly, burned down Tuesday. E-L-M, Environmental Lubricants Manufacturing, makes heavy grease out of soybean oil, products designed to replace petroleum lubricants. Chief Operations Officer Jim O’Regan says company officials were called by workers who first noticed the fire.
Five workers were at the plant at the time, and O’Regan praises them for evacuating folks around the plant and taking care of things. Though a gusty wind drove the fire, he notes it directed the flames away from the plant’s propane tanks and storage containers of soybean oil.
An 8,000-gallon tank of oil went up in smoke and flames, and at first firefighters called in haz-mat crews and closed down Highway 218, fearing toxic chemicals were burning at the site. Plainfield Fire Chief Tom Poppe says one of the workers noticed a small fire in the plant earlier in the day.
He says the worker went to get a fire extinguisher but he returned to find it had grown into a large fire. There was no way he could control it, and by the time fire departments arrived there was nothing they could do.
Seventy-five firefighters from local area crews came to help contain the fire, which destroyed the plant. But they reopened the highway by five Tuesday afternoon, and let evacuated residents from nearby homes and farms go home again around six.