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Wake Forest Cancels Classes, About 6,500 Evacuated After Fertilizer Plant Catches Fire

A fire tore through a fertilizer plant the night of January 31 and continued into the next day in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, forcing thousands living near the plant to evacuate their homes and a university to cancel classes on February 1.

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Winston-Salem Mayor Alan Joines told reporters the morning of February 1 every household within a one-mile radius of the Winston Weaver Company plant was asked to evacuate, with authorities adding there is still a chance for an explosion.

Fertilizer Plant Press Conference Live

Fertilizer Plant Press Conference Live

According to the city’s Twitter page, 2,497 households—almost 6,500 residents—are in the evacuation radius.

The evacuation area around 4440 North Cherry Street has almost 6500 residents or 2,497 households.

Wake Forest University, though mostly outside of the evacuation zone, decided to cancel classes Tuesday, as one of the university’s buildings and many students living off-campus were in the zone, the Associated Press reported.

Currently, students with nowhere else to go can bring sleeping bags, pillows and blankets to a building on campus, though university officials are working on a more long-term solution, according to WXII-TV.

At the Tuesday press conference, Winston-Salem Fire Chief Trey Mayo said firefighters responded to the blaze just before 7 p.m. on January 31 and attempted to put it out for about an hour and a half, but did not make “satisfactory progress,” and decided to pull the firefighters back due to all the ammonium nitrate at the site.

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According to the National Fire Protection Association, ammonium nitrate, though not technically classified as an explosive or flammable material, becomes dangerous when exposed to fire, as it can trigger an explosion.

The AP reported the city’s fire department said it could not provide enough water to be “reasonably certain” there would be no explosion.

Mayo added that a helicopter will be flying over the Winston Weaver facility to further assess the situation later Tuesday.

Due to the fire releasing ammonium nitrate and other aerosols from the fertilizer, WXII meteorologist Brian Slocum warned Winston-Salem residents the air could be unhealthy for some people.

WGHP reported facilities in the evacuation radius, such as North Hills Elementary School and Forsyth Correctional Facility, have also been affected. City officials told the local news outlet the prison inmates have been moved while the school told parents it would implement remote learning Tuesday with teachers calling students to check in on them.

“Personally and on behalf of all our citizens, I thank Chief Mayo and his team for keeping things under control and taking the actions needed to protect our citizens,” Joines said at the press conference.

The City of Winston-Salem, Wake Forest University and the Winston Weaver Company did not immediately respond to Newsweek’s requests for comment.

About 6,500 people were asked to evacuate after a fire broke out in a North Carolina fertilizer plant. Above, a structure fire burns at the Weaver Fertilizer Plant on January 31, 2022, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Allison Lee Isley/The Winston-Salem Journal via AP

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