WINSTON-SALEM: Winston-Salem is asking people within one mile of a raging blaze at a fertilizer plant to evacuate because an explosion is possible.

The fire began Monday night at the Weaver Fertilizer Plant on North Cherry Street, according to WGHP-TV. There were small explosions at the plant, according to city officials. The fully engulfed building was surrounded by firetrucks and other first response vehicles as bright orange flames shot into the sky along with thick plumes of smoke.

Winston-Salem police said in a news release that a portion of the road was closed while emergency crews, including 90 firefighters and 150 others from different agencies, responded to the fire around 8:20 p.m. Monday. At a news conference early Tuesday, Winston-Salem Battalion Chief Patrick Grubbs said the scene was still very much active and an explosion was still possible. We won’t be leaving anytime soon, Grubbs said. He warned that there would be a lot of smoke and poor air quality in the area, so everyone should stay away from the area.

Earlier, firefighters had said the potential for an ammonium nitrate explosion was high. Chief Trey Mayo of the Winston-Salem Fire Department said Monday evening that the fire-fighting operation was abandoned because of the large quantity of ammonium nitrate onsite.

WGHP reported that the building collapsed, limiting access to the product inside. Emergency Management was called in after firefighters fought the blaze for nearly two hours and are now accessing the scene every 15-20 minutes using drone teams from other fire departments, Grubb said. There was not enough water flowing for the firefighters to be reasonably certain they could prevent a detonation by keeping it cool enough.

He said that once a railcar at the back of the structure became involved, they couldn’t get water to the scene, so they pulled away because it had become a major explosion hazard. According to Grubbs, water is being pumped from a fire hydrant at the back of the location as of Tuesday morning.

“Don’t wait for something to happen. Something has happened,” Mayo had said on Twitter. “Now is the time to get out.” In the early morning hours of Tuesday, first responders were seen driving through the area, urging residents to evacuate to safety as an explosion threat loomed. First responders were also going door-to-door to remove people from the area.

“The evacuation area around 4440 North Cherry Street has almost 6,500 residents or 2,497 households,” the City of Winston-Salem reported on its Twitter page. Wake Forest University released a statement asking students in off-campus housing to evacuate. Additionally, the university said it is working on long-term plans for those without an alternative location. The evacuation area also includes the Forsyth Correctional Center.

Winston-Salem officials said a shelter has been set up at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds. People who have evacuated should plan to be away from their homes for up to 48 hours.

Local media outlets report that there were no employees inside when the fire started at the fertilizer plant. Officials from the Weaver Fertilizer Plant have not commented on the fire, according to Grubbs. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, and no injuries have been reported.


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