Fire at Winston Weaver Co. forces thousands to evacuate

Flames from the fire at the Winston Weaver Company fertilizer plant has been burning for three days. Everyone within a one-mile radius of the plant was asked to evacuate.

Fire at Winston Weaver Co. forces  thousands to evacuate
February 03
09:28 2022

Fears of an explosion forced local firefighters and thousands of residents to evacuate the area on Monday night, after a fire broke out at the Winston Weaver Company fertilizer plant located on Cherry Street. 

At about 7 p.m., the Winston-Salem Fire Department received calls of a fire at the plant located at 4440 Cherry Street. More than 150 firefighters responded to the fire, according to the WSFD Chief Trey Mayo. 

After battling the fire for nearly two hours, no progress had been made to douse the flames. “We were not making any satisfactory progress so we decided to abandon that firefighting operation due to the risk of the products on site,” said Mayo while addressing the press on Tuesday morning. 

At the time that the fire erupted, an estimated 5,000 tons of finished fertilizer and 600 tons of ammonium nitrate was inside the plant. To put that in perspective, in 2013, an explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas that took the lives of 15 people and destroyed 150 buildings, had about 240 tons of ammonium nitrate inside.   

Around the same time firefighters moved out of the area, everyone within a one-mile radius of the fertilizer plant was asked to evacuate. WSFD and the city of Winston-Salem used social media, media outlets, and reverse 911 calls to inform residents. First responders also traveled through neighborhoods using loudspeakers to let people know to evacuate. 

According to a hazardous materials expert, the impact of burning ammonium nitrate would only be an “irritant” and doesn’t cause any severe illness or death. Still, Mayo and other officials encouraged those who suffer from respiratory diseases and illnesses to stay indoors. 

“The threshold for immediate danger to life and health is 100 parts per million of nitric oxide and we’re measuring at about 65 parts per million,” Mayo continued. “But we do encourage folks who have asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease … to stay indoors. And we’re asking people who live in parts of the city where the haze and smoke is in the air not to do outdoor exercise today.” 

Mayor Allen Joines thanked Chief Trey Mayo and the Winston-Salem Police Department for their work to keep citizens safe. 

“On behalf of all our citizens, I want to thank Chief Mayo and his team for keeping this under control and taking the action needed to protect our citizens,” Joines said. “Those men and women put their lives on the line last night as they were battling that fire.” 

Mayor Pro Tem Denise “DD” Adams, who represents the North Ward where the plant is located, said around the time the fire was reported, she heard the sirens and a few minutes later a loud explosive sound and about an hour later she heard it again. “In my mind I said I feel like that might be the fertilizer plant,” recalled Adams. 

Winston Weaver Company, Inc. was founded in 1929 in Norfolk, Virginia, by A.W. Weaver. The Winston-Salem plant was built in 1939 and opened for business in 1940. The company produces specialty fertilizer and plant food.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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