Health and environmental concerns remain two years after fire at Winston Weaver fertilizer plant

City and state officials are still taking actions to monitor the impacts of the fire.

Aerial view of smoke coming from a large gray building.

Winston Weaver Co. disposed of 11,000+ tons of soil, fertilizer, and debris after the fire.

Photo courtesy of US Environmental Protection Agency

The fire at Winston Weaver Company’s fertilizer plant on Jan. 31, 2022 prompted some Winston-Salem residents to evacuate their homes and the city to prepare for what the fire chief called “potentially the largest explosion in US history.” Here’s a look at developments two years since the disaster.

What happened

A passerby called to report a fire at the Winston Weaver Company fertilizer plant at 4440 Cherry St. around 6:45 p.m. on Jan. 31, 2022. Officials determined 600 tons of ammonium nitrate on the property were at risk of exploding. The fire burned for four days before the site was deemed safe enough for firefighters. Rain helped put out the flames. Everyone within the one-mile radius who voluntarily evacuated was allowed to return home.

What’s happened since

The cause of the fire was deemed “undetermined.” The city came up with a plan to reimburse residents who were affected, although an accounting found that only one-third of the money was distributed.

Blue sky with clouds over blank land. A pickup truck is on the right side of the frame.

A view of the former plant site from Cherry Street.

Photo by WStoday

The state Department of Labor fined Winston Weaver Company a total of $5,600 for two violations. In December 2022, Winston-Salem City Council unanimously approved amending the city’s Unified Development Ordinance to put new restrictions on facilities that manufacture fertilizer, pesticides, chemicals, and explosives.

Neighbors filed a class-action lawsuit accusing the company of gross negligence. Proceedings got underway in Forsyth County Superior Court in July 2023.

Concerns remain

Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist is monitoring residents within the evacuation zone for long-term health impacts.

State records show that groundwater contamination levels at the property exceed state standards. An earthen berm is in place to prevent runoff from flowing into Monarcas Creek.

Environmental contractors have not found contaminants in wells beyond the Cherry Street site, but told the NC Department of Environmental Quality it is likely that contaminated groundwater has migrated offsite to the west and north. State records show they caution more testing is needed.