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Massive fertilizer warehouse fire that led to evacuation in South Hill is contained, officials say

Police: 'Unless you are in the immediate vicinity of the fire you are OK to shelter inside'
South Hill Warehouse Fire
Posted at 4:36 PM, Jul 06, 2024

SOUTH HILL, Va. -- Fifteen volunteer firefighters were injured battling a massive fire that broke out at a fertilizer warehouse in South Hill, Virginia, that prompted an evacuation for nearby residents on Saturday.

One of the 15 firefighters remained hospitalized early Sunday morning, according to officials with the South Hill Volunteer Fire Department. The firefighters were taken to VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital with injuries related to chemical exposure, heat exhaustion and minor scrapes and burns. Those injuries were described as non-life threatening.

Fire officials had recommended a voluntary evacuation for people within half a mile of the fire, according to a joint statement at 5 p.m. from South Hill, the town's police and fire departments as well as Mecklenburg County.

"Please avoid the area," officers urged. "Unless you are in the immediate vicinity of the fire you are OK to shelter inside."

WATCH: Drone video shows crews battling massive fire at warehouse

Watch crews battling massive fire at fertilizer warehouse in South Hill

The fire started at Nutrien Ag Solutions, which offers fertilizers and other chemicals like herbicides and insecticides, in the 500 block of W Danville Street around 1:55 p.m.

Officials with the South Hill Police Department said multiple fire departments were working to get the "large commercial fire under control." As of 5 p.m., officials said the fire was 75% contained. Then around 6:15 p.m. officials said the fire was 90% contained and as of just after 8 p.m. officials said the fire had been contained.

"There is a large amount of run-off coming from the fire that is going into creeks in the area. At this time the levels are non-hazardous but does have a strong smell," police said. "Please avoid area creeks and this run-off."

South Hill Fertilizer Warehouse Fire

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Officials said Virginia Department of Emergency Management crews were monitoring the levels and that updates would be provided "if anything changes."

Crews will likely remain on the scene for an additional 8-10 hours, officials estimated.

"All the Fire Departments are doing a great job but the heat is very hard on them," police said. "Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers. This continues to be a major event, please continue to avoid the area."

WATCH: Massive fire burns fertilizer warehouse in South Hill

15 firefighters injured battling massive blaze at fertilizer warehouse in Virginia

Drone video from Ken Currin showed flames shooting through the roof of the building as crews doused water on the flames.

Currin said more than 150 firefighters and "countless volunteers" assisted.

"A great job was done to protect all of the multiple exposures on each side of the warehouse which was very old and full of very flammable products," Currin wrote.

Company officials said a "third-party related car accident involving a private citizen" resulted in the fire at their retail facility.

Video provided to WTVR CBS shows a propane tank, which was apparently hit by a car and then landed near the warehouse, shooting flames into the building.

Propane tank shoots flames into warehouse on Saturday, July 6, 2024 in South Hill, Virginia.
Propane tank shoots flames into warehouse on Saturday, July 6, 2024 in South Hill, Virginia.

Scott Tucker, who grew up in South Hill but now lives in Victoria, said the tank "landed perfectly in front of a window and blew flames inside."

"In that part of the building they usually keep chemicals in cardboard boxes and on pallets stacked right there," he wrote.

"An evacuation is currently in effect, and we are working with the local fire department accordingly," Nutrien Ag Solutions officials said.

A drone video shot later by Brandon Turley around 3:30 p.m. showed the entire structure's roof had collapsed as at least four firetrucks worked to extinguish the blaze.

Police said the Farrar Funeral Home on N Mecklenburg Avenue was open as a cooling location and that Red Cross assistance was also available at the site.

"There may be a slight smell of smoke in the air as crews work to completely extinguish the fire," officials wrote.

Turley said the smell of the smoke was "hard to describe" and somewhat "like plastic."

"It was completely different," Turley said. "My fiancé smelled it worse than I did."

South Hill Warehouse Fire

Tucker said the longtime business serves numerous farms in several counties.

"It'll be a major blow to the local economy if the farmers can't be served by them," Tucker said.

The fire happened as the area was under a Heat Advisory until 8 p.m. That means the heat index or feels-like temps could top 105° in spots.

"Hot temperatures and high humidity may cause heat illnesses," National Weather Service officials warned.

South Hill is a town with a population of roughly 4,700 off Interstate 85 in rural Mecklenburg County. It is about 85 miles and a 1- hour 15-minute drive from Richmond.

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