Before major blaze in January, electrical failure at Weaver Fertilizer plant in Winston-Salem caused material to smolder on Dec. 26

A fire incident report released this morning showed that Winston-Salem firefighters and a hazardous materials team responded to a separate incident at the Weaver Fertilizer plant — on Dec. 26 — after an electrical failure caused fertilizer material to smolder.

This incident occurred a month before a major ammonium nitrate blaze at the Weaver Fertilizer plant, 4440 N. Cherry St., according to the report, obtained by Policy Watch under the Public Records act. The most recent blaze started on Jan. 31 and burned for roughly four days, prompting city officials to ask residents to evacuate within a one-mile radius of the plant.

City officials had not previously disclosed the Dec. 26 fire.

Firefighters from Station 14, which is two miles north of the plant and arrived five and a half minutes later. They were on the scene for roughly five hours. “Upon arrival, Engine 8 observed a haze coming from the top of the building,” the report reads. Plant employees met firefighters, “stating that a pile of fertilizer material was smoldering.”

There was “excessive heat” and “scorch burns with no ignition,” according to the report.

Ammonium nitrate is not inherently explosive; however, it can explode if it comes into contact with combustible materials. There was no risk of explosion during the December incident, according to the report. However, the Jan. 31 fire, which involved nearly 600 tons of ammonium nitrate, was at risk of exploding.

During the December incident, an electrical failure caused machinery to stop operating properly and dropped hot material into the pile.

Firefighters flooded the smoldering material with water. It was “deep-seated and access was difficult due to the nature of the materials,” the report reads, “which had hardened into a rock substance.” A hazardous material team opened the pile and removed it from the building.

By 8:30 p.m. the acrid smoke had reached a neighborhood two miles away; residents of that area near Harmon Avenue smelled acrid smoke and called both the fire department and the non-emergency police number, Policy Watch reported yesterday. Bebe Kern Somerville told Policy Watch that the person answering the police phone line replied that the Weaver Fertilizer plant was on fire.

Once the hazardous materials team removed the material from the building, a Weaver Fertilizer plant employee stayed there overnight “performing fire watch,” the report said.

When Policy Watch asked for the fire incident report yesterday, an official answering the phone said there was no such record. Policy Watch refiled the request to include any structure in the 4400 block, in case the address was mistyped. There were two addresses listed in the incident report “4499 Indiana Av/N Cherry St,” which could have caused the confusion. City officials emailed the report this morning.


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Before major blaze in January, electrical failure at Weaver Fertilizer plant in Winston-Salem caused material to smolder on Dec. 26