Bourbon From Jim Beam Warehouse Fire Pours Into Kentucky River After Suspected Lightning Strike

Jim Beam bourbon is shown on February 3, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.
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Firefighters are still on the scene as 45,000 bourbon barrels burn midday on Wednesday and the runoff pours into a nearby creek and the Kentucky River.

The Courier-Journal reports that the fire started at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday when two barrel warehouses at the Jim Beam facility on McCracken Pike near the Franklin County line burst into flames, and it is thought that a lightning strike is possibly the cause. But Drew Chandler, Woodford County Emergency Management director, says that they can’t be sure at this time as the fire is too hot to take on an official investigation.

One oak bourbon barrel is said to hold 53 gallons of the spirit, which is typically transferred into approximately two hundred 750 milliliter bottles. The Courier-Journal proposes that if all of the barrels were full of bourbon at the time of the fire, that would mean that 6 million bottles of the spirit were lost and susceptible to run-off.

A Versailles Police Department official said five or six agencies were responding to the fire, including the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet spokesman John Mura, who confirmed that there is runoff into the Kentucky River and Glenns Creek following the blaze and “intense heat” from the burning alcohol. Mura says that cabinet reps will stay on site in an effort to contain the runoff.

Crews are using sand and sandbags to prevent more bourbon runoff from getting into the bodies of water, and Mura shared that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been notified.

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“We have advised fire departments to not spray water on the fire, though they are spraying the buildings next to the warehouse that are not burning in order to contain the fire. Putting water on the fire would just increase the runoff. This fire is so hot that we think the best thing to do is let it consume all of the bourbon rather than having more of it go into the stream.”

As a result of the runoff, Mura believes a “significant” number of fish will die and oxygen levels in the water will be lowered due to the alcohol. The environment cabinet is planning to issue an advisory for anyone planning to use Glenns Creek or the Kentucky River over the holiday weekend.

KFOR is reporting that it could be days before the cause of the fire is known, but with storms moving through the area on Tuesday night, sources believe a lightning strike “could be to blame.”