Feb 1, 2022 - Science

Thousands evacuate as a North Carolina fertilizer plant fire rages

Winston-Salem Fire

Photo: Winston-Salem Fire Department

Thousands of people evacuated their homes as a fire at the Winston Weaver Company fertilizer plant in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, that began Monday night, continues to burn uncontrollably.

Why it matters: Dangerous chemicals at the plant could cause a large explosion if the fire continues to burn, AP notes.

Details: The Winston-Salem Police Department asked for people to evacuate the area within a one-mile radius for up to 48 hours. It has established a shelter for people within the evacuation zone.

  • Firefighters had to pull back from the scene as the uncontrolled fire was extremely dangerous, AP reported. They left behind an unstaffed truck to pump water as drones flew over to assess the fire.
  • Winston-Salem Fire Chief Trey Mayo told reporters Tuesday that an estimated 500 tons of ammonium nitrate were in the plant and another 100 tons were in a rail car next to it.
  • That is more than twice the amount of ammonium nitrate that was present at the 2013 Texas fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people, Mayo explained.
  • Matthew Smith, a hazardous material expert, told reporters that while the situation is serious, the chemicals being released due to the fire were not an immediate threat to life and health.

Of note: Wake Forest University is just outside the evacuation zone. Classes for the day have been canceled and students are being asked to stay indoors and keep their windows closed.

What they're saying: "[If] that doesn’t convey the gravity of the situation and how serious folks need to take it, I don’t know how else to verbalize that,” Mayo added in his press conference with reporters.

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