Officials from a North Carolina municipality confirmed that firefighters responded to a late December call about a smoldering heap of “fertilizer materials” at a plant. A subsequent explosion and uncontrolled flames would have forced thousands to flee their homes.
According to an incident report released on December 26 by the fire department, and obtained from the Winston-Salem Journal as a response to a request for public records, Winston-Salem firefighters responded to the call at the Winston Weaver Co. facility.
Nearby residents dialed 911 to report seeing smoke and haze in the vicinity of the plant. The plant was inspected by firefighters who noticed a “haze emanating from the top.”
“Employees from the business met Engine 8 and stated that a pile fertilizer material had been smoldering,” the seven page reports states. It also says that the first firefighters in the building determined that there was no risk of an explosion and flooded the area.
According to the report, the incident was caused by an electrical fault that prevented machinery from operating properly.
According to the report, “The material pile was smoldering because of equipment used in manufacturing dropping hot materials into it.” The pile did not produce flames or cause fire damage.
Winston Weaver spokesperson Adam Parrish declined to comment on Saturday.
Rick McIntyre was the lead investigator in the investigation into the huge fertilizer plant fire that broke out Monday night. McIntyre stated that Winston Weaver Co. had experienced minor fires in the “last couple of years.” He also said these were caused by electrical equipment. McIntyre didn’t mention a December fire.
Officials also stated that the explosion risk from the fire had been “greatly reduced” as much of the combustible chemical was gone. This allowed firefighters to return to their site to spray down the remaining material.
Residents who lived in the area of the fire believed that the December fire was an indicator of the latest event.
Jarrod Whitaker, who lives nearby the plant, said that it was exactly like what he is smelling now.
Whitaker and Wilson Somerville exchanged text messages when they found out about the possibility of a huge explosion at the plant. They also recalled the December fire. Somerville stated that he would like to know if there is a connection between the Dec. 26 fire and the Monday one.
“As you can see, I and my neighbors want a very thorough investigation of the current fire as well as the previous fire and, given the two fires in question, a thorough examination of whether there was any issue at the plant that had been ongoing for a while,” Somerville wrote via email.
Winston-Salem’s city leaders advised the public that they should avoid the creeks running downstream from the plant, and that pets and other animals should be kept out of the creeks because of the high levels of chemicals found in the water due to the fire.