A newly released incident report from the Winston-Salem Fire Department confirms “excessive heat, and scorch burns” at the Winston Weaver fertilizer plant on December 26. That's more than a month before a fire there caused a major risk of explosion and forced the evacuation of thousands of area residents.

Late Sunday afternoon with fires under control the evacuation order was reduced to 275 feet from the plant. But many questions remain over the possible health and environmental impacts, and more recently, the fire department's response to a December 26 call to the Weaver plant. 

That evening at around 8:00 p.m., Wake Forest University professor Jarrod Whitaker who lives about a mile and a half away, smelled smoke. Suspecting a house fire, he says he walked down the street to determine the source of the smoke and contacted neighbors — several of whom began gathering outside.

“So, I called the fire department and I report that there's a really strong chemical, acrid burning smell in the area and there's smoke on the street and down Polo Road,” says Whitaker. “And they said they would dispatch a firetruck.”

The fire department report states that the first unit arrived at the North Cherry Street location to smoke coming from the windows of the building, blanketing the entire area. Employees at the plant met Engine 8 and pointed to a pile of smoldering fertilizer. The cause was later determined to be an electrical failure. No flames or fire damage were reported, but fire crews flooded the area with water, and used a mini-excavator to open up piles of rock-like smoldering material.

Last Monday's fertilizer plant fire, with its subsequent explosions and fumes forced Whitaker to evacuate.

“We heard the boom in our neighborhood,” he says. “My house shook and people are texting, ‘What is going on?', and then you start to smell the smell. And I'm telling everyone this happened a month ago. And so, I think there needs to be some accountability — dots connected between December 26th and now, and the reports that there were inspections at the plant beforehand.”

Fire Chief Trey Mayo says a full investigation will take time. Plans for a commission to write a full after-action report have yet to be announced.


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