Woodford County

Jim Beam still burns in warehouse fire debris. Aerators used to help save fish from runoff.

Alcohol trapped in the remains of a Jim Beam warehouse continued to burn Thursday as workers used equipment to mitigate the bourbon runoff that endangered fish in a nearby creek and the Kentucky River.

Aerators have been deployed in Glenns Creek near the warehouse in Woodford County to increase or maintain oxygen saturation in the water that bourbon runoff could have depleted, according to the state Energy and Environment Cabinet. Aerators were expected to soon be operating from barges in the Kentucky River.

Meanwhile, “a pool of bourbon under the debris” continued to burn Thursday under the watch of an emergency crew on scene, said Drew Chandler, the Woodford County Emergency Management director.

The massive fire that consumed the warehouse began about 11:45 p.m. Tuesday night. Inside, 45,000 barrels of “relatively young whiskey“ were destroyed, according to Jim Beam.

The controlled flames will be left to burn out on their own as early firefighting efforts with water may have contributed to bourbon-filled runoff, Chandler said.

“At this point, the only thing left burning is the distilled spirits, so it’s a clean burn, and there is less impact to the atmosphere than there would be if there were attempts to extinguish the fire with water,” Chandler told WKYT, the Herald-Leader’s reporting partner.

There was hope that heavy rain Wednesday and rising river levels had helped dilute the runoff and reduce fish kills.

Beam Suntory began clearing debris to support environmental cleanup, the state environmental cabinet said. The company met Thursday with the cabinet and U.S. EPA representatives at the warehouse site. State environmental cabinet workers were taking daily water samples, and they were on the Kentucky River to attempt to determine the extent of the bourbon spill.

Beam Suntory will be issued a notice of violation for the runoff, John Mura, the cabinet spokesman, told the Courier Journal. The “notice of violation gives the company an opportunity to explain its actions and comply with regulations,” the Courier Journal reported.

The cabinet warned people not to eat fish that were “distressed” or dead.

The cabinet previously took to Facebook to warn “recreational users of the Kentucky River” to be cautious in the area. Although recreational activity along the river was not prohibited entirely, river goers were warned of several possible adverse conditions.

“Runoff from the bourbon fire will create conditions that include water discoloration, foaming and an odor, as well as low dissolved oxygen levels, which could have a serious impact on the aquatic life in the river, including substantial fish kills,” the post said.

No injuries have been reported.

The fire was initially blamed on lightning, and the National Weather Service confirmed that a storm with lightning strikes occurred in the area late Tuesday night into Wednesday.

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