Firefighters Brace For North Carolina Fertilizer Plant Explosion, 6,500 People Evacuated

Tyler Durden's Photo
by Tyler Durden
Wednesday, Feb 02, 2022 - 01:44 PM

An uncontrolled fire burns at a North Carolina fertilizer plant early Wednesday as there is still a risk of an explosion, forcing thousands of people to evacuate their homes in surrounding communities, according to local news WXII-TV

Winston Weaver Co.'s Winston-Salem plant caught fire Monday night and continues to burn days later. The plant produces ammonium nitrate and has more than 500 tons of potentially explosive chemicals in storage.  

"There has been no improvement on scene, conditions have not improved," a spokesperson for the city of Winston-Salem said during a press briefing at 0430 ET. "The potential for an explosion is still there."

The out-of-control fire forced firefighters to retreat and led local officials to evacuate 6,500 people who lived within one mile of the plant. At a news briefing on Tuesday afternoon, officials said an explosion is possible within 36 hours. 

"We are not out of the woods.

"I've been in this business 33 years and when I learned how much ammonium nitrate was on site ... I felt as uneasy at a fire scene as I've felt in my 33 years in this business," Winston-Salem Fire Chief Trey Mayo said.

Mayo said ammonium nitrate is an unpredictable chemical. Besides the 500 tons on storage, there's an additional 100 tons in railcars on the grounds. For some context, it only took 2,750 tons to create a massive chemical detonation in the Port of Beirut, Lebanon, on Aug. 4, 2020. 

Drones and a helicopter monitored Weaver's facility on Tuesday into early Wednesday as the window for an explosion remained wide open. 

BlackSky Technology, a geospatial intelligence firm, provided images from space of the ongoing incident. 

The fire comes as the fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate market has been tight after a tumultuous 12 months. Hurricane Ida struck the heart of the U.S. fertilizer industry in late August, and an energy crisis in Europe curbed production. Tight markets have sent fertilizer prices to record high in late December and remain over 2008 highs. 

Record high fertilizer prices will prompt farmers to curb usage of the critical nutrient for plants, potentially resulting in declining crop yields or forcing some to change crops that don't need as many nutrients. One thing is sure, high fertilizer prices mean food inflation will remain elevated this year. 

As for now, firefighters in Winston-Salem are bracing for a potential explosion today.