Late Monday evening, a fire broke out in the Weaver Fertilizer Plant in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Nearly 6,500 residents who live within 1 mile of the plant have been encouraged to evacuate for up to 48 hours due to a potential explosion.
After battling the fire for hours, reports said that firefighters had to evacuate as well due to the blaze spreading to a nearby rail car on site that contained ammonium nitrate. The plant reportedly had nearly 600 tons of potentially explosive ammonium nitrate — that amount of material can be explosive when in contact with heat. In addition to the ammonium nitrate tonnage on site, there was 5,000 tons of finished fertilizer at the facility.
Although the crew members have evacuated, there is still a fire truck on the back side of the building pumping water to the fire, but it remains unstaffed due to the potential for explosion. However, the department is utilizing a drone to assess the scene every 15 to 20 minutes.
To put the potential of ammonium nitrate explosion in perspective, Winston-Salem Fire Chief Trey Mayo compared this fire to the West Fertilizer Company storage and distribution facility in West Texas. In April 2013, the Texas facility, which was storing 240 tons of ammonium nitrate, killed 15 and injured about 200. The Winston-Salem fertilizer plant was storing nearly 600 tons of ammonium nitrate. Mayo urged residents to take this very seriously.
Authorities stated a 36-hour window for explosion potential exist. As of about 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, they are only 14 hours into that window and the danger still exist. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is bringing additional air monitoring technologies to assess the air quality outside of the one mile radius.
Since fire personnel cannot be on scene due to the ongoing fire and dangers, the cause of the fire is still under investigation. Mayo stated that it was unknown if anyone was in the building when the fire started.
This article will be updated as more information about the fire and hazards to the community become available.