The American Red Cross is recognizing 261 Winston-Salem firefighters with a Salute to Heroes award for their work containing the late-January chemical explosion and fire at Winston Weaver fertilizer, a fire which city leaders said at the time had the potential to be "one of the worst explosions in U.S. history."
No civilians or firefighters were injured. Nine-year veteran Darrius Johnson was one of the first people on the scene that night.
"We were flowing a copious amount of water," he recalls. "When I went back to look at the rail car and my battalion chief identified the rail car as ammonium nitrate that's when he was like, 'back up.'"
Plant leaders told the city there was about 90 tons of ammonium nitrate in the rail car and another 500 tons inside the building, spread across two piles. Winston-Salem Fire Chief Trey Mayo said ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound known for being unpredictable.