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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — City officials addressed the ongoing situation at the Weaver Fertilizer plant in Winston-Salem.

According to Fire Chief Trey Mayo, the initial calls about this fire came in just before 7 p.m. Monday night. Crews have been on the scene since. Crews have been pulled back from the site and drones are being flown over the area every hour. Crews from Lewisville Fire Department, Winston-Salem Police Department and Greensboro Fire Department are assisting in monitoring.

Weaver Fertilizer fire evacuation area
Weaver Fertilizer fire evacuation area

According to the Fire Chief, 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 product at the scene of the fire, as well as 5000 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.

Environmental monitoring agencies say that there is a roughly 36-hour window for the risk of an explosion.

Air quality is the biggest concern. People with respiratory issues are encouraged to stay inside, leave the immediate area of the fire and avoid strenuous outdoor activity or exercise.

“If you’re within a mile of the plant, you need to leave and go somewhere else,” Chief Mayo said.

They were not tracking the air quality within the 1-mile radius as of Tuesday, and the air quality outside of the 1-mile radius is not yet considered immediately dangerous to life and health.

Ammonium Nitrate has irritant qualities. Too much of it in the air could cause itchy eyes, coughing, sneezing, irritated skin, according to the on-scene hazmat team leader.

The Forsyth County Office of Environmental Assistance and Protection is monitoring the situation. It anticipates the impact of the smoke will be concentrated in an area northwest of downtown Winston-Salem, near Wake Forest University. They recommend avoiding outdoor activity.

Officials described the fire as in “decay stages” meaning that it will begin to run out of fuel and burn itself out.

No personnel will be on the site of the fire for at least 48 hours. Officials are not sure if anyone was inside the fertilizer plant when the fire began.

When asked about the cause or origin of the fire, Chief Mayo said they were “nowhere near” being able to speak on or investigate that.

About 6500 residents live inside the evacuation zone. North Hills Elementary is also within the radius and is on an optional remote learning day. Wake Forest University has also closed.

Mayor Pro Tem Denise Adams spoke directly to the community she represents, thanking emergency responders and echoing calls to leave the area. She asked anyone who wishes to help those who have been evacuated to contact the Red Cross.

Evacuees with nowhere else to go have gone to the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds. The Red Cross has responded, providing water, snacks and other resources for those in need.

“I think there will be a large space of blight in the space,” Adams said of what comes after the fire is done. “If we don’t ensure that this is put back right, we’ve failed our community,” she continued, going on to say, “the city of Winston-Salem, Winston-Salem fire and police department will do what we need to do to make sure our community is left whole and safe.”