Five Miles Out from the Walmart Volcano

Walmart volcano!

Lead photo by my wife Anne, who got wind of the event before I did.

I nearly called this “The Day They Nuked Walmart”, but that’s even less accurate and I’m told this isn’t a great moment in history to joke about nukes. One day nuke jokes shall make a comeback, possibly on my watch but not necessarily today.

What were we talking about? Oh, right, I didn’t mention it yet:

Wednesday afternoon I was working from home at the kitchen table, on the opposite end of the house from all the really good windows, when Anne came rushing out from our library room, where she holes up five days a week with her own WFH job and one window that faces our neighbor’s vinyl siding, and announced the biggest news overtaking her Facebook feed among our locals: the Walmart distribution center in Plainfield was on fire. We don’t normally run out the doors to watch fires, especially when they’re five miles away. Then I followed her outside and caught the quasi-apocalyptic vibe.

Walmart mushroom cloud!

No zoom lenses were used in the taking of these pics.

Mind you, this was a massive Walmart warehouse, not an actual Walmart store, though it has at eight Walmarts of varying sizes within a ten-mile radius of it. So it was an entire warehouse on fire. All 1.2 million square feet of it. The smoke cloud was visible for miles around (confirmed by my downtown coworkers and one distant relative/stranger up in Cicero), and blotted out the sun and most of our sky overhead. It had been a pretty lovely day for us up to that point.

pinprick sun!

The sun is a pinprick playing peekaboo with us through the destruction.

overhead Walmart smoke!

A fraction of the sky directly overhead, large enough to contain at least one Independence Day alien warship.

Walmart fire lightening!

The billowing harbinger of fiery pandemonium lightened in color as it ran out of exercise equipment, action figures, DVD players, cheap vlogging starter kits, prefab shelves, Keurig machines, giant belt buckles, Atkins supplements, uncomfortable bras, fluorescent bulbs, potting soil, diapers, truck tires, beer, guns and/or ammo to burn and moved on to other merchandise such as summer wear or Wonder Bread.

The pollution raged on for hours. When my early work day ended around 3:00, I left the house to run errands and felt it was my solemn duty as a nearby looky-loo to keep tabs on its lack of progress. I didn’t attempt to drive up to the warehouse’s remains because firefighters need space to do their jobs and I imagine the police were already overtaxing themselves holding mobs of wowed Instagrammers at bay. Everywhere I went, even from a distance my inner eight-year-old couldn’t stop staring.

toxins over gas station!

Four miles east of the fire, the overpriced gas station snacks shudder and think, There but for the grace of God…

fumes behind Target!

The closest point of my drive, less than a mile from ground zero. All that stood between me and the Walmart disaster was a Super Target.

smoke from comic shop!

A couple of miles west, because it was a Wednesday and I am who I am, here’s the view from my local comic shop.

Some two dozen firefighting crews showed up to pitch in. Miraculously, out of 1000+ employees, not a single injury was reported, nary a fatality. Everyone got out unscathed. Several employees left their cars behind and would love to have them back sometime. The company is reassigning folks to shifts elsewhere in the interim until they can figure out what the heck. As of Thursday morning, local news crews continued airing live footage of smaller fires resurging within the remains. As of tonight it’s too soon to know what caused it, and we have at least another six to eight hours before any charismatic baseless conspiracy rumors build some real momentum.

One major side effect already visible: everyone around here has burnt garbage on their lawns, including us. Flecks, tatters, and chunks of blackened debris are dotting our landscapes. Fire officials have told everyone to leave them alone for now because they could be toxic. I’m not sure how long we’re supposed to wait for researchers to discern whether or not it’s cool for me to go out there with gloves, a trashcan, and a snow shovel and scoop them up like they’re giant kaiju-dog droppings. Rain in our Saturday forecast should add another fun variable to the science experiment. I take small comfort in the fact that this nastiness couldn’t damage my lawn any more than I already have myself.

Walmart fire debris!

Sample potentially poisonous chunk out by the retention pond. I’m not sure how well this will go over with our pesky neighborhood Canadian geese who love loitering around and befouling the area.

So far we can breathe just fine, and it didn’t reek nearly as strongly as I expected. I’m gratified that colossal cloud didn’t simply sink and engulf our entire side of town. Our prayers are with those directly affected by the fire, and here’s hoping the bits of white tufts that I saw stuck to a few fragments were merely choking-hazard fiberglass insulation and not carcinogenic asbestos. We’ll update you on our symptoms and damages as they occur, only here on MCC!

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