WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A massive fire is burning at the Weaver Fertilizer Plant in Winston Salem. First responders have been working to evacuate thousands of homes within a one-mile radius as the dangerous chemicals could spark an explosion.
A similar fire took place at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas in 2013, but it was much worse. A 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer Company killed more than a dozen people. The company there at the time had 240 tons of ammonium nitrate. The explosion killed 15 people, injured more than 200, and destroyed 150 buildings.
Parnell McNamara is the McLennan County Sheriff in Texas. He was on the scene of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas in 2013. He stresses safety as crews work to get the fire under control at the Weaver Fertilizer Plant in Winston-Salem.
“From my experience with this, I would say evacuate everybody that you can, and hopefully, it will burn itself out,” McNamara said. “If it does explode, you won’t have 15 or 20 people dead. That is the sad part about this whole thing. The fertilizer plant is not worth losing one life. Get those people out. Let this thing burn itself out. If we had done that here, 15 people would be alive. The devastation is just tremendous.”
Frank Patterson retired as the Waco-McLennan County Emergency Management Coordinator in 2019. He told WFMY News 2 he vividly remembers the night of the 2013 West, Texas explosion. He asked the community of Winston-Salem to listen to local officials as they watch the fire for the next few days.
“Everybody wants to show up and see what’s going on,” Patterson said. “Don’t do that. Let them do their job. Listen to them if they ask you to evacuate. Evacuate. They’re making the best decision with the best information that they have at the time to protect life and safety, and that’s really the key here.”
Winston-Salem Fire Chief Trey Mayo said there is nearly three times the ammonium nitrate in the Weaver Fire as there was in the deadly West, Texas fertilizer plant fire in 2013.