Thousands must evacuate as North Carolina fertilizer plant burns

As a fire at a fertilizer plant in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, burned for a third day on Wednesday, officials said they were maintain...


As a fire at a fertilizer plant in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, burned for a third day on Wednesday, officials said they were maintaining a one-mile evacuation zone around the factory and ordered firefighters to keep their distance due to the risk of an explosion.

About 600 tons of ammonium nitrate were at the Winston Weaver Company factory when the fire broke out on Monday evening, prompting authorities to close a school and circulate in the streets to urge residents over 2 000 households to go to a shelter.

On Wednesday, Bobby Wade, the Winston-Salem Fire Department’s division chief, said fire conditions at the plant had not improved. Firefighters were assessing the scene but were not on site at the plant, where the possibility of an explosion “has not diminished”, Chief Wade said.

“It is dangerous for anyone to be on this site,” he said. at a press conference.

Those conditions prompted officials to extend the voluntary evacuation period, which was tentatively set to end Wednesday morning, until “the risk of an explosion has passed”, the city said in a press release.

The fertilizer plant is in a neighborhood of about 6,500 residents, city officials said. On Tuesday, city fire chief Trey Mayo highlighted the danger of an explosion, referring to a fire at a fertilizer plant in Texas in 2013 in which 240 tons of the same product exploded, destroying or seriously damaging nearly 200 homes and killing 15 people.

“If that doesn’t convey the seriousness of the situation and how seriously people need to take it,” he said, “I don’t know how else to put it.”

The cause of the fire was unclear, but Chief Wade said Wednesday that officials from the Winston Weaver Company were providing information to investigators. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said tuesday that federal investigators were assisting local fire departments.

Denise D. Adams, a member of the Winston-Salem City Council who represents the North Ward district that includes the plant, said in an interview Tuesday that about 500 tons of ammonium nitrate were in the building and the rest on a wagon, with tons of finished fertilizer product also on site.

She said she was watching television on Monday night when she heard sirens. Around 7 p.m., she recalled, “there was a loud shaking explosion, boom, and immediately my mind thought when I heard it – fertilizer plant.”

The fire started at a loading dock, she said, according to preliminary information. Several calls had come in to 911 from people passing through the plant.

Firefighters who initially responded to the blaze on Monday were later fired because the building where the ammonium nitrate was stored had collapsed, limiting their ability to get enough water into the area, the chief said. Mayo.

On Tuesday, the ministry issued a video showing the firefighters deployed in the neighborhood, calling for the approximately 6,500 inhabitants living within a one mile radius of the factory to be evacuated.

“If it explodes, it will level a one-mile radius,” said a firefighter, speaking through a loudspeaker from inside his vehicle in the dark streets. “Please leave the area.”

North Hills Elementary School, which is in the evacuation zone, was closed to in-person learning for a second day on Wednesday. Wake Forest University also canceled classes again on Wednesday. The university said it will provide alternative housing for students and faculty and staff who live inside the evacuation zone.

Chief Mayo said teams of personnel, helicopters and drones had been enlisted in efforts to assess the blaze.

An ammonium nitrate explosion would occur from a combination of weight and heat, Chief Mayo said Tuesday. The chemical must be contained to explode, he added, and when there is a large amount, the amount on top acts to confine the amount below, he said.

No injuries or deaths were reported. It was not immediately clear how many employees worked at the plant. The company was founded in Norfolk, Virginia in 1929 and opened the Winston-Salem factory in 1940. representatives for the Winston Weaver Company could not be reached Tuesday or Wednesday.

Ms Adams, a member of the city council, said the factory had been inspected in December and that “there were no non-compliance issues” at the factory.

She said a shelter had been opened at a nearby fairground.

The fire that started the deadly factory explosion in West, Texas in 2013 – one of the worst industrial disasters in Texas history – was intentionally unleashed, federal officials said.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency that regulates workplace safety and chemical storage, told the the fertilizer industry in a letter after the Texas disaster that the bulk ammonium nitrate explosion took place 20 minutes after the first report of a fire.



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Newsrust - US Top News: Thousands must evacuate as North Carolina fertilizer plant burns
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