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Mysterious White, Flaky Debris Rains Down on Elmhurst Residents Wednesday

Was it space particles? Human remains?

Elmhurst residents who were out running errands at around 3 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12, have been trying to figure out why tiny white particles were falling from the sky all over town.

Dozens of residents took to Facebook Wednesday to speculate about what it might be. Theories ran the gamut: Was it debris from the Geminid meteor shower or a giant asteroid? Human ashes from Elm Lawn Crematorium? A house fire somewhere in Elmhurst?

Commenters on various Elmhurst Facebook pages reported seeing tiny white particles that looked like snow flurries, from the south end of Elmhurst up to North and West avenues, as well as at City Centre, near Lincoln School, by Courts Plus, near the Villa Park Post Office, near 22nd Street and Midwest Road in Oak Brook, and other locations.

"(When I) opened the trunk, it blew everywhere," Tammy Churchill Pesenti said.

"I thought it was flurries at first, but clearly not," Lauren Johnson said. "So glad we're all breathing it in!"

Some described the particles as plastic shavings or sawdust, others said they were ash, thin and chalk-like, tan/yellowish, about an inch long or tiny.

After some investigating, Elmhurst Fire Chief Jeff Bacidore provided a possible answer on Thursday—and it's not nearly as exciting as theories about space debris.

"I did some calling around, and I think I've tracked it down," said Bacidore, adding the Elmhurst Fire Department had received some complaints about the debris Wednesday, as well. "The Bolingbrook Fire Department said there were some prescribed burns out by Boughton Road and I-355 (between Woodridge and Bolingbrook) at some of the wetlands out there, and also up by Romeoville."

Bolingbrook wasn't actually conducting the burn at the wetlands, Bacidore said, adding he thought the work was contracted through the DuPage County Forest Preserve District.

Two controlled burns at the same time could certainly produce a lot of flaky white stuff. But how did it get all the way out here to Elmhurst?

"I looked at the weather, and the winds have been out of the southwest at over 20 miles an hour," Bacidore said. "That's the only thing I can think of that it might be. Whether it was a combination of one or both of (the fires), I have no idea."

Did you see the white substance swirling around the area on Wednesday? What did you think it was? Tell us in the comments.

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Diane Holstrom December 14, 2012 at 03:54 AM
Yes, I saw the stuff! I thought, snow flurries, but there wasn't a cloud in the sky! So, I just thought it was coming from way high up in the atmosphere. I didn't think about it again until I saw this story.
Pete Yarema December 14, 2012 at 05:25 PM
My grandson and I were shopping at Oakbrook Center when we noticed them. I caught one in my hand and examined it. It disintegrated easily upon pressing. The long thin ash had the veining pattern of grasses, so a controlled burn makes sense.
Denise Hutton December 15, 2012 at 03:57 PM
I was driving north on Rte.53 just past Normantown Road in Romeoville and off to the east was a huge cloud of black smoke which appeared to be coming from the Citgo refineries or very near to them.When I stopped at the light at Bluff Road there were small white particles coming down which I naturally assumed were from whatever was burning to the east.I can't believe they travelled as far as Elmhurst and Oakbrook.

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