WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — Months after a fire and the threat of a chemical explosion forced an evacuation in Winston-Salem, the Winston Weaver Company is facing repercussions from the state Department of Labor.
On July 18, the NCDOL issued penalties for two “serious violations.” The first citation notes that ammonium nitrate storage buildings and structures were not kept dry and “free from water seepage through the roof, walls and floors.” The second says wooden bins the company was using were not made to keep ammonium nitrate from seeping through.
The citation report says both violations were corrected during inspection. Little of the facility remained by the time the fire was finally extinguished.
“The partitions dividing the ammonium nitrate storage from other products which could contaminte the ammonium nitrate were not of tight construction,” the citation said.
Both citations come with $2,800 fines for a total of $5,600.
“The penalties are in no way designed to make up for loss of life,” the state said. “By law, the civil money penalties collected by the N.C. Department of Labor are not the receipts of the department, but rather must be remitted to the Civil Penalty and Forfeiture Fund, which then distributes the monies to the public school system.”
Just before 7 p.m. on Jan. 31, the fire at the Winston Weaver Co. fertilizer plant on North Cherry Street forced the city to evacuate people within one mile of the plant due to the possibility of an explosion. Estimates put about 6,500 residents within that zone. Wake Forest University asked students within the range to evacuate and nearby prisons bussed inmates to other facilities. North Hills Elementary was also within the radius.
According to the Winston-Salem Fire Department, there were roughly 500 tons of ammonium nitrate in the building and an additional 100 tons in an adjacent rail car, bringing it to 600 tons of the ammonium nitrate at the scene of the fire, as well as 5,000 tons of finished fertilizer.
A similar plant fire in West, Texas resulted in an explosion that killed several people and leveled buildings, and they had roughly half the amount of ammonium nitrate.
The first night of the fire, WSFD crews “abandoned” the fire-fighting operation because of a large volume of ammonium nitrate on site. They could not flow enough volume of water to be reasonably certain that they could keep it cool enough to prevent a detonation.
Crews were not able to get back on site until Feb. 3 as the risk of explosion came down.
It wasn’t until Feb. 5 that the Forsyth County Environmental Assistance and Protection Board said the air quality in Winston-Salem was in good, breathable condition.
City officials confirmed small explosions at the plant, but the major blast that fire crews feared was possible never happened.