One Body Found at Site of Plant Explosion in Illinois

RANTOUL, Ill. (AP) -- Two state agencies are investigating the cause of an explosion and fire at a central Illinois manufacturing plant that left one person dead and another injured, authorities said.

Alcohol used in manufacturing hair-care products at the Conair Corp. plant fed the fire and made it difficult to extinguish, officials said. Firefighters reported at least six explosions after they arrived at the plant in an industrial park on the west side of the city Wednesday evening.

Firefighters from five surrounding communities helped in the four-hour effort to extinguish the blaze.

They were unable to enter the plant until after midnight when they located the body of a Conair employee who had been missing since the first explosion, said Mayor Neal Williams.

Firefighters found the body in the fire-damaged area of the plant. The fire occurred in an area where alcohol is used to manufacture aerosols for hair-care products, Williams said.

Fifty-eight Conair employees were at work at the time of the explosion around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, the mayor said. Conair is one of this town's largest industrial plants.

He expected investigators from the Illinois Fire Marshal's Office to begin looking into the cause of the fire Thursday. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency also will investigate, the Rantoul Police Department said in a statement issued early Thursday.

Another worker was treated for injuries at the scene, said Rantoul Police Chief Paul Dollins.

Employees from Conair and two nearby businesses were bused to Rantoul Township High School after the explosion.

The Conair plant employs 240 people, Williams said. The fire was contained to a 30-by-30-foot area of the 24,000-square-foot facility, he said.

Conair materials handler Mike Eskew heard the first of two quick explosions in the room next door to him, called ''the alcohol room.''

''I thought it was thunder, and then it happened again. By the time I knew it wasn't thunder and it was in the building, I saw flames, and then the alarm went off. That's when I got out of the building,'' Eskew said.

He said workers left the building calmly and reported to a nearby area for a head count by managers.

Eskew described the alcohol room as having two giant tanks filled with alcohol, used for cleaning tools, equipment and other items.

''That's highly flammable stuff, and the aerosol room is on the other side of it. That's flammable, too,'' Eskew said.

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