Firefighters 'completely exhausted' after massive fertilizer warehouse fire; weeks-long cleanup ahead

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality staff monitoring runoff impacts reported fish mortalities in Dockery, Mountain creeks
South Hill Fertilizer Warehouse Fire
Posted at 4:01 PM, Jul 07, 2024

SOUTH HILL, Va. -- Officials say volunteer firefighters are "completely exhausted" nearly 24 hours after battling a massive fire at a fertilizer warehouse that prompted an evacuation in South Hill, Virginia.

Crews were "wrapping up operations" as of 12:25 p.m. Sunday. Cleanup of the Nutrien Ag Solutions site on W Danville Street would likely take weeks, according to the South Hill Volunteer Fire Department.

"All utilities have been restored and residents may return home," officials said.

WATCH: Drone video shows crews battling massive fire at warehouse

Watch crews battling massive fire at fertilizer warehouse in South Hill

Company officials said a "third-party related car accident involving a private citizen" caused the fire at their retail facility, which offers fertilizers and other chemicals like herbicides and insecticides to farmers, around 1:55 p.m. Saturday.

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

"Our community has completely overwhelmed us and we are praying for all affected along with our Nutrien Family," firefighters said Sunday.

South Hill Warehouse Fire

As a result of the water used to extinguish the fire, police said Saturday evening that there was a large amount of run-off from the fire going into area creeks.

"At this time the levels are non-hazardous but does have a strong smell," officers said. "Please avoid area creeks and this run-off."

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality officials said Sunday that EPA contractors arrived overnight to begin monitoring air pollution, including particulate pollution, volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide.

Officials said there were "currently no actionable levels of pollutants" and that rain moving through the area would "help suppress any odors and/or pollutants."

"DEQ water quality monitoring staff have been on scene today to assess impacts to nearby water bodies from fire fighting runoff. Staff observed fish mortalities in Dockery Creek and Mountain Creek," Irina Calos with Virginia Department of Environmental Quality said. "A sample of runoff from the facility has been collected and is currently being transported to state lab to determine potential contaminants. We expect to receive test results possibly as early as tomorrow."

Officials said the agency remains at the scene with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, EPA, the Town of South Hill, Nutrien Ag and their response contractors.

South Hill Fertilizer Warehouse Fire

Local News

PHOTOS: Massive fire destroys fertilizer warehouse in South Hill

8:39 AM, Jul 07, 2024

Fifteen firefighters were injured battling the blaze as feels-like temperatures soared into the triple digits. They were taken to an area hospital for chemical exposure and heat exhaustion-related injuries as well as minor scrapes and burns, officials said. Their injuries were described as non-life threatening.

Fire officials had recommended a voluntary evacuation for people within half a mile of the fire as of 5 p.m. Saturday.

About six hours after the fire started, firefighters had the flames fully contained. But crews remained overnight working hot spots and monitoring air at the site and surrounding neighborhood.

Officials said firefighters would be "out and around the property for several days."

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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