Jim Beam fire: Bourbon and thousands of dead fish enter Ohio River


Dead fish and bourbon began to enter the Ohio River on Monday due to the runoff from last week’s Jim Beam warehouse fire.

The “alcohol plume” from the bourbon runoff in the Kentucky River is approximately 23 miles (37 kilometers) long.

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Jim Beam Bourbon fire and spill disaster in July 2019. Picture: Pat McDonogh / AP

We won’t know the total damage done for a few weeks. For now, officials are expecting “thousands of fish” to die. The dead fish already found in the Ohio River could be from the Kentucky River.

Last Wednesday, Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet spokesman John Mura confirmed that bourbon from the warehouse ⁠located in Woodford County contained 45,000 barrels and spilled into the nearby Kentucky River and Glenns Creek.

As a precaution, Mura said that the state had advised firefighters not to spray water on the fire, because that would increase the runoff. That is part of the reason why the fire lasted for more than three days, from Tuesday night to Saturday morning: Officials decided to let the bourbon and ethanol burn off before extinguishing the fire.

The cabinet said in a Facebook post Monday afternoon that the leading edge of the 23-mile alcohol plume is located past Monterey and is now into the Ohio River at Carrollton.

We expect the plume to dissipate quickly at it enters the much, much larger body of water,” the post reads. “While there could be some impact to aquatic life immediately where the two rivers meet, we expect there will be little or no overall impact on the fish in the Ohio River.

Though those near the Ohio River may have to brave the sight of dead fish, the overall impact of the bourbon flowing to the body of water is not expected to be too severe. 

It will have a very negligible impact on the river,” Mura said. “The Ohio River is so much larger than the Kentucky that it’s not going to be an issue.”

Additionally, customers “don’t need to be worried about the quality of Louisville’s drinking water,” said Kelley Dearing Smith, vice president of communications for Louisville Water Company.

Amidst the damage control efforts, Mura said the cabinet will be issuing a notice of violation to Beam Suntory, the Chicago-based spirits company that owns Jim Beam, for bourbon runoff spilling into nearby waters. The maximum fine is $25,000 for each violation for each day.

The cabinet posted several other images over the weekend offering a closer look at the toll on the river and its inhabitants.

Progress has been made since the Jim Beam warehouse was set ablaze last week. The fire at the site is no longer burning, and debris removal will be taking place over the next few weeks, according to Mura.

Well this Bourbon spill disaster in Kentucky will kill lots of fish and wildife in the next few days or even weeks.

[Courier Journal, Chicago Tribune]

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