Jim Beam fire: Barges deployed to clean Kentucky River after fire

Beam Suntory, the company that owns Jim Beam, has deployed aerators to help clean up the Kentucky River after a fire at the whiskey maker’s warehouse contaminated the water.

Around 45,000 barrels of whiskey were destroyed in a fire at Jim Beam’s facility in Versailles, Kentucky. (Photo: Jim Beam)

A spokesperson for the spirits giant said the “situation is now sufficiently under control” and the State of Kentucky is preparing to halt its emergency response to a fire that broke out at Jim Beam’s facility in Versailles, Kentucky, last week.

Firefighters from four counties had been enlisted to contain the blaze, but officials said runoff from firefighting efforts had led to an alcohol plume in the Kentucky River.

The plume is estimated to be around 28km long, travelling towards the Ohio River.

The Kentucky River was seen brimming with dead fish over the weekend after alcohol leaked from some of the 45,000 barrels destroyed in the fire. Wildlife officials had said the fire had also caused low levels of oxygen in the river.

The Jim Beam owner “immediately initiated actions to minimise the environmental impacts,” they said, working with a combination of local, state, and federal government agencies since Wednesday.

“This included deployment of aerators to support regeneration of the affected water. Once it was safe to do so, aerators were placed in the creek on Wednesday, and a barge was deployed in the Kentucky River to operate aerators late Thursday. We’ve seen oxygen levels rebound well in both waterways.

The whiskey maker’s response team also built raised barriers around the warehouse facility to avoid further runoff to the nearby waterways, and is still carrying out water sampling and water field screening to “get real time results of water quality on the river.”

The cause of the fire, which has now been extinguished, is still unknown, although a spokesperson for Beam Suntory said it could have been caused by lightning.

Whiskey makers in Kentucky have endured a number of disasters in the past year. A barrel storage facility at the O.Z. Tyler Distillery in Owensboro suffered a partial collapse last month.

And in June last year, roughly 9,000 Bourbon barrels were destroyed when part of a warehouse, owned by Kentucky distiller Barton 1792 – part of the Sazerac Company – collapsed.

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