Source: NC Policy Watch
Just over one year ago, the Weaver Fertilizer plant in Winston-Salem was the site of a massive ammonium-nitrate fire that destroyed the plant’s buildings and forced over 6,000 residents to flee their homes in fear of a massive explosion that had the potential to be “one of the worst explosions in U.S. history” according to Fire Chief Trey Mayo. Now, one year later, documents have surfaced showing the dangerous state of disrepair the plant was in which very likely contributed to the fire.
While the cause of the fire remains undetermined, investigators have uncovered that the combination of roof leaks, electrical hazards and large stockpiles of potentially explosive ammonium nitrate likely contributed to the blaze.
“In addition to the electric short hazard, water seepage can create an explosion hazard,” state documents requested by NC Policy Watch read. “If water is allowed to contaminate the ammonium nitrate pile, it may lump or cake together resulting in the weight of the material getting compressed into a solid mass and increasing the likelihood of a detonation in the event ammonium nitrate is exposed to fire, heat or shock.”
Former employees reported that the roof had sections missing that routinely leaked rainwater into the plant. Just one month before the massive blaze, electrical problems caused hot materials to drop into the huge pile of chemicals causing them to melt and smolder and filled the surrounding neighborhood with smoke.
State records also show that in addition to the ammonium nitrate, Weaver routinely stored other chemicals, as much as 1,600 tons in the unsafe buildings.
Labor department officials fined Weaver $5,600 last year for violations that could have contributed to the blaze.
In December of 2022, the Winston-Salem City Council voted unanimously to place new zoning laws and site restrictions on facilities that manufacture pesticides, fertilizer and other agricultural chemicals, explosives and pyrotechnics, and batteries.
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