WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (AP) — Officials in a North Carolina city confirmed on Saturday that firefighters responded to a call in late December about a smoldering pile of “fertilizing material” at a factory where , weeks later, an explosion and uncontrolled flames would force thousands of people to flee their homes.
Winston-Salem firefighters were called to the Winston Weaver Co. plant on Dec. 26, according to an incident report released by firefighters and obtained by the Winston-Salem Journal in response to a public records request.
Nearby residents called 911 and reported seeing haze and the smell of smoke in the area around the plant. The firefighters dispatched to the scene noted “a mist coming from the top of the building”.
“Company employees encountered Engine 8, stating that a pile of fertilizer was smoldering,” the seven-page report said, adding that the first firefighters inside the building determined that there was no had “no risk of explosion” and flooded the area with water. .
The report blamed the incident on an electrical fault that caused machinery to shut down.
“The pile of materials was smoldering due to equipment used in the manufacturing process dropping hot materials into the pile,” the report said. “At no time did the pile produce any flames or fire damage.”
Adam Parrish, spokesman for Winston Weaver, declined to comment to the newspaper on Saturday.
Rick McIntyre is the lead investigator into the massive fertilizer plant fire that started Monday night. In a Thursday morning briefing, McIntyre said Winston Weaver Co. had had minor fires “over the past two years.” He said these occur in electrical equipment. McIntyre did not mention a fire in December.
On Thursday, officials also said the blaze’s threat of explosion had “significantly diminished” as much of a combustible chemical had burned off, allowing firefighters to return to the site to pulverize what was left.
Residents living near the fire suspected that the December blaze was a precursor to the more recent event.
“It was exactly like what we feel now,” said Jarrod Whitaker, who lives near the factory.
When they learned of the potential for a massive explosion at the plant, Whitaker and Wilson Somerville, another nearby resident, exchanged texts in which they remembered the December fire. Somerville said he wanted to know if there was a connection between the Dec. 26 fire and the much larger one on Monday.
“As you can imagine, myself and other neighbors want a very thorough investigation into not only the current fire, but also the previous fire, and given the two fires, a thorough check to see if there is there was a problem at the factory that was unfolding. for some time,” Somerville wrote in an email.
City of Winston-Salem officials on Saturday warned the public to stay away from streams downstream of the plant and to keep pets and other animals out of streams due to high levels of chemicals in the water resulting from the fire.
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