About 6,500 people have been told to evacuate their homes in Winston-Salem, North Carolina due to a fire at a fertilizer plant storing over 300 tons of potentially explosive ammonium nitrate, city officials said on Tuesday.
The blaze at the Weaver Fertilizer Plant on North Cherry Street started Monday evening. Residents within one mile (1.6 km) of the plant were urged to evacuate and stay away from their homes for up to 48 hours.
“If you are within 1 mile please evacuate!,” the City of Winston-Salem said on Facebook on Tuesday morning.
No injuries had been reported and the cause of fire was not known.
Fire officials said firefighters evacuated the area due to the large volume of dangerous ammonium nitrate on site. A large quantity of the chemical compound exposed to intense heat can trigger an explosion.
Video footage from a drone showed several large smoke plumes rising from the site.
An old unmanned fire truck was hooked up to a hydrant and was dousing a railcar on fire at the facility with water, Assistant Fire Chief Jerry Hardison said at about 7:30 a.m. in a Facebook post.
“The area where ammonium nitrate was added is not actively burning at this time. It’s smoldering” Hardison said, noting that the temperature of the fire needs to be kept under 400 degrees Fahrenheit (204°C), the flash point of ammonium nitrate.
Winston-Salem Fire Chief Trey Mayo said earlier the facility had somewhere between 300 and 600 tons of the chemical.
“To put that in perspective, in 2013 .. (the Texas) fire and explosion involved around 240 tons of ammonium nitrate,” he said, referring to an explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant killed 15 and injured about 200 in 2013.
He said the building had collapsed and access was restricted.
“We could not flow enough volume of water into the area where that ammonium nitrate is stored to be reasonably certain that we could keep it cool enough to prevent a detonation.”
In 2020, a massive blast at a warehouse used to store ammonium nitrate in Beirut, Lebanon killed at least 100 people and injured nearly 4,000.