Two Jim Beam warehouses in Kentucky erupted in flames last week, spilling nearly 45,000 barrels of bourbon into the Kentucky River. In an apocalyptic scene, the fire spread to the alcohol on the river’s surface, consuming all available oxygen within the water. The fire, alcohol content and lack of oxygen resulted in the death of thousands of fish.
But this isn’t Kentucky’s first rodeo. In fact, the state has had so many whiskey spills that it has specific protocols for this type of disaster. The Louisville Water Company issued a swift announcement letting the public know that the water is not a health concern for humans.
“We’ve had several occur in this state, so when this one occurred, we were just ready for it and knew what the actions were to take,” said Robert Francis, the manager of Kentucky’s emergency response team.
When the Jim Beam warehouse was struck by lightning in 2003, 800,000 gallons of bourbon spilled out into the a creek in Bardstown. Just last year, the Jim Beam warehouse went up in flames again and spilled 9,000 barrels. In 2000, Wild Turkey spilled 17,000 gallons of bourbon in Frankfort, Kentucky and killed about 228,000 fish. In 1996, the Heaven Hill distillery spilled 90,000 barrels of bourbon after a warehouse fire.
Firefighters from four counties rushed to the scene to extinguish this year’s bourbon warehouse blaze, and emergency teams continue to monitor the river to assess the impact. The Kentucky River is approximately 24 miles long and moving at a speed of less than a mile per hour. The alcohol is expected to have reached the Ohio River and be diluted enough to cause no further threat.
Wildlife crews also helped aerate the river water via barges, which helps to replenish the oxygen and prevent further fish kills. The emergency responders will leave the dead fish floating in the river to decompose naturally, as they pose no threat to humans or other wildlife.
Image via Bruno Glätsch