North Carolina Firefighters Forced To Pull Back From Fire at Fertilizer Plant

by Anna Dunn

North Carolina Firefighters pulled back from a fire at a fertilizer plant due to the risk of a large explosion. The fire started Monday night at the Weaver Fertilizer Plant in Winston-Salem. It’s packed with a highly dangerous 600 tons of ammonium nitrate and has continued to burn today.

Now, firefighters have been forced to abandon the scene. Officials evacuated 6,5000 residents within a mile radius of the facility as fears of an explosion grow. This includes those in a nearby prison and students at Wake Forest University.

The blaze has launched noxious fumes in the air, according to ABC. The fire cast a smokey haze over the nearby city with 250,000 residents.

The fire, reported at around 6:45 pm last night, quickly spread through the plant. Multiple small explosions took place. No injuries have been reported thus far.

Winston-Salem fire chief William “Trey” Mayo said in a news briefing earlier today that fire crews could only battle the flames for around an hour and a half. The threat of explosion forced them to retreat.

“We decided to abandon the firefighting operation and pull out crews back due the risk of the products that are on-site at this facility,” he explained.

500 Tons of ammonium nitrate are in the building. 100 more tons of ammonium nitrate are in a rail car right next to the building. 5,000 tons of fertilizer is stored at the facility.

“All of it is in the line of fire,” Chief Mayo said.

Fertilizer Plant Explosions can Be Catastrophic

For reference, in 2013, there was an ammonium nitrate explosion at the West Fertilizer Company company in Texas. That explosion killed 15 people and completely leveled 150 buildings. Mayo referenced the incident in his statement about the situation.

“The quantity of ammonium nitrate they had on hand was 240 tons. When this fire began last night, we had 600 tons on-site,” Mayo said. “So, if that doesn’t convey the gravity of this situation and how serious folks need to take it, I don’t know how else to verbalize that.”

Firefighters routed water to the area containing the ammonium nitrate. They hope this will help keep that area under 400 degrees and prevent explosions. Fire officials are also monitoring the blaze with drones. The threat of more explosions will last through the next 36 hours. Until then, nobody can get close.

Environmental teams are also monitoring the air in and around the evacuation zone. The air in Winston-Salem may smell a bit like spent fireworks, but it’s not toxic. Though Mayo says those with “sensitive respiratory systems” should stay indoors.

The cause of the fire remains unknown, but the fertilizer plant passed an inspection in December.