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Oil Cleanup Needed after Fire in Kalona

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KALONA, Iowa - A fire heavily damaged the northern portion of a former fertilizer plant in Kalona, Tuesday afternoon

Firefighters from five departments rushed to 215 South 14th Street in Kalona, around one. That's the old Vel-Donna Plant, which now holds a small business and storage space.

Fire crews said things started with a bang.

"They had heard an explosion, and the building was on fire," said Kalona Fire Chief Steve Yotty.

The building was fully engulfed when crews arrived. Yotty said the fire was fueled by drums of tractor and truck engine oil, being kept inside. Crews worked for more than two hours before they got things under control.

"We were able to stop it right there, at that point. We were able to shut it down right there. The rest of the building is okay," said Yotty.

Flames are out, but another battle is underway. Engine oil is everywhere. It's covering the ground and floating in puddles. State conservationists were worried oil could be washed into the nearby English River and harm the ecosystem.

"It's going to kill fish, kill aquatic life, and soak in the ground, a potential groundwater contamination. That sort of thing," said Paul Brandt with the Iowa DNR.

Brandt said Mother Nature is helping out. Frigid temps have frozen culverts, meaning instead of flowing, oily runoff is pooling in ditches. Brandt said that buys some time to hire contractors and remove oil before it becomes a problem.

"We're concerned, but things are stable. It's not going anywhere. In that respect the cold has helped us a lot," said Brandt.

Fire officials are investigating what caused the fire to start. The state fire marshal's office has been alerted and will be investigating. No injuries were reported.