MILLVILLE, Ky. – The Jim Beam bourbon warehouse that started around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday is still burning in Woodford County, according to authorities.
After trying to put out the fire throughout Tuesday night into Wednesday afternoon, the Woodford County Fire Department is going to wait to extinguish the fire for a day or two “because of the environmental consideration,” said Drew Chandler, Woodford County Emergency Management director.
“There is less environmental impact to allowing the ethanol to continue to burn,” he said. “That’s really all that’s left.”
The decision comes after runoff from the blaze had made it to the nearby Kentucky River and Glenns Creek.
John Mura, a spokesman for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, said the state had advised firefighters not to spray water on the fire, because it would increase the runoff. Crews were using sand to try to prevent more runoff from going into the streams.
According to Mura, the cabinet has already “seen some fish killed” as a result of the incident and expects the number of deaths to increase.
To try to keep the fish alive, Mura said that Beam Suntory, the Chicago-based spirits company that owns Jim Beam, is putting aerators into Kentucky River and Glenns Creek in an attempt to oxygenate the water.
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Mura also said the cabinet will issue a notice of violation to Beam Suntory for bourbon runoff spilling into nearby waters. Such notices give recipients the chance to explain their actions and comply with regulations.
For now, the Woodford County Fire Department and the Versailles Police Department are the only groups remaining at the site of the warehouse. Chandler said they will hold a “permanent presence” until the fire is extinguished.
The warehouse contained 45,000 barrels of bourbon. One standard bourbon barrel usually holds about 53 gallons of bourbon, which eventually turns into around 150 to 200 750-milliliter bottles. If all of the barrels held bourbon, that would be a loss of at least 6.75 million bottles.
Beam Suntory said in a statement Wednesday that initial reports indicated “the fire resulted from a lightning strike.” The company also noted that the barrels in the warehouse contained “relatively young whiskey from the Jim Beam mash bill” and will not impact availability of the product for customers.
In a statement Thursday, Beam Suntory said it will “work with local, state and federal agencies as we conduct response operations.”
“We are thankful that no one was injured in the fire, and we are grateful to the courageous firefighters from multiple jurisdictions who brought the fire under control,” the company statement said. “These heroic efforts were able to contain a portion of the material from the fire on the warehouse campus.”
While officials said nobody was injured, some nearby property was damaged.
Gary Tate, who has lived on a farm across the street with his wife, Linda, for about 20 years, told the Courier Journal that the flames were so intense, they melted the front side of their home and “peeled it just like a banana.”
With the fire creating intense heat, Chandler said that firefighters had “minimal amounts of time up close” before coming out for a cool-down period, where their blood pressures and other vital signs were checked.
“Keeping tabs on our personnel is as important as the task that’s in front of us,” he said.
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