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In Winston-Salem, fire evacuees start to go back home as a fertilizer plant still smolders

winston salem weaver fire twitter smoldering feb 6 twitter.JPG
Winston-Salem firefighters gather at the Weaver Fertilizer site on Feb. 6, 2022, as cleanup efforts continue.

Residents who live near a fertilizer plant that has been burning for a week are returning to their homes after authorities said the risk of a large explosion had greatly diminished.

Officials on Sunday reduced the evacuation zone, which initially extended as much as a mile from the Winston Weaver Co. plant, to 275 feet (83 meters), about the length of a football field, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.

Firefighters were on the scene Monday cleaning up the site. Fire officials haven’t yet declared the fire extinguished, as they are still checking for hot spots.

The fire broke out last Monday night at the plant, where nearly 500 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored — almost three times the amount that exploded at a Texas plant in 2013, killing 15 people. The fire has affected more than 6,500 residents. A nearby elementary school closed for in-person learning and Wake Forest University canceled classes because of the fire.

By Wednesday, Winston-Salem Fire Chief William Mayo said the risk of an explosion at the plant had greatly diminished. On the advice of Environmental Protection Agency officials, city officials first reduced the evacuation zone on Thursday, from a mile to 1/8 of a mile, allowing residents to go back to their homes for the first time.

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