Thousands of people living near an uncontrolled fire at a North Carolina fertilizer plant were being urged to evacuate Tuesday as firefighters warned that chemicals at the site could cause a large explosion.
Authorities drove through neighborhoods and knocked on doors asking residents to leave within a one-mile radius of the Winston Weaver Company fertilizer plant on the northside of Winston-Salem, where the fire started Monday night. The evacuation area included about 6,500 people in 2,500 homes, the Winston-Salem Fire Department said.
“We want to make sure that right now we’re evacuating everybody in this one-mile radius,” Winston-Salem Battalion Chief Patrick Grubbs told reporters early Tuesday.
Fire officials said there is “potential for explosion” due to nearly 500 tons of ammonium nitrate inside the building, CBS Greensboro, North Carolina affiliate WFMY-TV reports.
Most of the campus of Wake Forest University is just outside the evacuation zone. The university urged students living in dormitories to stay indoors and keep windows closed, and they canceled classes for Tuesday.
Winston-Salem officials said a shelter has been set up at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds. People who have evacuated should plan to be away from their homes for up to 48 hours.
Bright orange flames could be seen shooting into the sky along with thick plumes of smoke as lights from firetrucks and other first responder vehicles surrounded the fully engulfed building.
Firefighters had pulled back from the scene due to the danger of the uncontrolled fire, leaving behind an unmanned truck to pump water on part of the site, Grubbs said. Authorities were also flying drones over periodically to assess the fire.
Grubbs warned that there was going to be a lot of smoke and poor air quality in the city of about 250,000 in the central part of the state. He said that it could take some time for the fire to come under control.
The fertilizer plant was closed when the fire started and no employees were inside, local media outlets reported. No injuries were reported.
Fire officials don’t know what started the fire, CBS Greensboro, North Carolina affiliate WFMY-TV reported.
A company representative from the Winston Weaver Company didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.