A tar kettle being used by workers resurfacing the flat roof of Wheeling High School caught fire Tuesday afternoon outside the school, creating a plume of thick, black smoke that could be seen for miles.
Wheeling firefighters were called to the school, 900 S. Elmhurst Road, at about 4:15 p.m. and arrived to find a tar kettle ablaze, as well as a nearby Dumpster, said Wheeling Fire Lt. Tim Durkin.
The heat caused a tire on the tar kettle's trailer to burst, tipping the kettle and spilling flaming tar down the driveway in front of the school, he said.
The fire was under control in less than an hour and never spread into the building, Durkin said.
Firefighters sprayed the building near the flames to keep fire out of the school and to keep the brick from absorbing as much heat, which could potentially cause structural damage, he said.
District officials said school will start on schedule Aug. 21 and all pre-school activities are still scheduled.
"We don't anticipate any trouble starting any activities leading up to the start of school," school board President Bill Dussling. "It was handled very quickly. The Wheeling Fire Department did a super job of getting there and doing what they needed to do. Clearly the school is going to be operational and no one was injured, so that was a great thing."
Given how hot the fire burned, Dussling said district officials would likely still have professionals check the structural integrity of the school as a safety precaution.
"Anytime there's that kind of heat on the building it might cause some concern for us to inspect the building internally," Dussling said.
The situation closed Elmhurst Road between Hintz and Dundee roads for a time Tuesday afternoon and drew firefighters from Wheeling, Arlington Heights and Buffalo Grove, as well as Long Grove's ambulance and station assistance from Lake Zurich and Lincolnshire-Riverwoods Fire Protection District.
The fire remains under investigation.