Crews continue to track the environmental impact of the massive Jim Beam warehouse fire in Northern Kentucky, as run-off from the fire has traveled more than 20 miles along the Kentucky River, killing thousands of fish. No one was injured in the Versailles, Kentucky fire that burned more than 45,000 barrels of bourbon, but the contaminated liquor is beginning to travel from the Kentucky River into the Ohio River.
CBS affiliate WKYT-TV reported that an emergency response team is tracking the plume of alcohol that is moving at an estimated .6 miles per hour. Crews are testing for dissolved oxygen and officials with the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet say the alcohol is leading to extremely low oxygen levels in the water. The low oxygen levels have created conditions that threaten the atmosphere of the fish, leading to an increase in deaths.
In a Facebook post on Monday, the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet said, “The Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources is on the river again today to continue wildlife assessments and fish kill count. Results are pending.” They added, “We continue to see dead and dying fish. People using the Kentucky River in the area of the plume will likely see and smell dead fish.”
“The bacteria in the water is going after the food source, which is the sugar in the alcohol and so they deplete the oxygen. The fish start to become distressed, and they eventually die,” said Robert Francis, the manager of the emergency response team.
Officials say the alcohol should dilute significantly once the 24-mile long plume flows into the Ohio River. In the meantime, crews are using barges to aerate the water and bring the oxygen levels up in affected areas. They say the levels have already returned to normal in some areas.
Officials say when it comes to bourbon spills in Kentucky, that they know the drill. “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 Francis.
According to officials, the dead fish will decompose naturally with no harm to the river, so there is no plan to remove them.