Firefighters at fertilizer plant

Firefighters battled a blaze at a fertilizer plant in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on January 31, 2022. (Photo: Winston-Salem Fire Department/Twitter/screenshot)

North Carolina Fertilizer Plant Fire Forces Thousands to Evacuate

The facility has on-site an estimated 500 tons of ammonium nitrate, several times the amount that was at a Texas plant when a 2013 explosion killed 15 people.

Thousands of residents who live within a one-mile radius of a fertilizer plant in Winston-Salem, North Carolina were ordered to immediately evacuate after a fire broke out at the facility Monday night.

Although firefighters initially battled the blaze at the Winston Weaver Co. fertilizer plant, located at 4440 N. Cherry St., the crews were pulled back after about an hour and a half due to the explosion risk, Fire Chief Trey Mayo said during a Tuesday morning press conference.

The plant has on-site an estimated 5,000 tons of finished fertilizer and 500 tons of ammonium nitrate, Mayo explained. That is several times the amount of the ammonium nitrate that was at a West, Texas plant in 2013 when an explosion killed 15 people and injured scores of others.

Nearly 6,500 residents live in almost 2,500 households within the evacuation zone, according to the city.

North Carolina Department of Public Safety spokesperson John Bull toldCNN about 220 inmates from nearby Forsyth Correctional Center were moved to the minimum-security Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville.

Wake Forest University--which has one on-campus housing unit in the evacuation zone--canceled classes Tuesday and urged faculty, staff, and students who live within a mile of the plant to leave the area until at least late Wednesday, when authorities are expected to reassess the conditions.

WXII 12reports the Forsyth County Office of Environmental Assistance and Protection (FCEAP) is monitoring the fire and warned of air quality concerns:

Officials with FCEAP said a smoke plume from the fire will continue to drift southwest throughout the day Tuesday and is anticipated to impact local air quality across an area to the northwest of downtown Winston-Salem near Wake Forest University.

FCEAP recommends avoiding outdoor activity in and near the smoke plume, especially children, and adults with respiratory illness and/or asthma.

Asked about the potential cause of the fire early Tuesday, Mayo told reporters that "we are not anywhere near that point in the event."

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