A fire broke out at a fertilizer factory in Winston-Salem this week that had the potential for truly catastrophic consequences. In fact, during the early stares of the Winston-Salem fertilizer factory fire, officials were concerned that the blaze could result in one of the largest explosions in U.S. history.
The Weaver Fertilizer Plant was the site of a tremendous amount of a highly combustible and hazardous chemical known as ammonium nitrate. While the ammonium nitrate at the site of the Winston-Salem fertilizer plant fire was intended for use in agricultural products, the chemical compound is also utilized in explosives. It is widely used in mining, quarrying, and construction.
Firefighters were not able to immediately access the factory premises do directly work to contain the fire because of the nature of ammonium nitrate. By happenstance, a rainstorm commenced that tamped down the blaze to some degree and lowered the risk of an explosion. By the end of the week, the risk of an explosion was diminished extensively.
Although the explosion risk was reduced, the prospect of hazardous fumes being emitted from the factor site remain an issue. Officials are closely monitoring air quality, a process that started on the day the fire started and continues to this time.
Out of concern for the potential for an explosion, coupled with the potential risk of toxic fumes being emitted from the plant, an evacuation was ordered for a zone comprising a one-mile radius around the Weaver Fertilizer Plant. The evacuation directive was voluntary, however. Voluntary though the order is, officials have been firm in recommending that people leave the vicinity.
Winston-Salem Fire Battalion Chief Patrick Grubbs commented on the need to evacuate the area:
Our message has stayed the same the whole time. We’re asking all the citizens to stay out of the area and if they’re in the area to evacuate.
People with respiratory conditions have been advised to be particularly cautious. That admonition continues to this time.
Smoke and haze continue to be seen in the area surrounding the Winston-Salem fertilizer plant. These conditions are expected to continue for some days to come, perhaps even into the coming week.
A 12-person team that includes state and federal investigators is gathering information about the blaze. They have not yet been able to get onsite to investigate the fire. They are otherwise collecting information and conducting interviews. They are also reviewing drone footage. Once the fertilizer plant scene is declared safe by officials, the investigation will move to the facility.
The Weaver Fertilizer Plant is located on the north side of Winston-Salem. The blaze quickly consumed the building, resulting in its collapse in a fairly short period of time.
500 tons of ammonium nitrate were stored at the plant. In addition, 100 tons were stored in an adjacent railcar.
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