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'Smell of bourbon fills the air' as massive fire engulfs Jim Beam warehouse in Kentucky

By Amanda Schmidt, AccuWeather staff writer
July 04, 2019, 1:08:44 PM EDT

A Jim Beam warehouse caught fire late Tuesday in Woodford County, Kentucky, after severe thunderstorms moved through the region. Firefighters struggled to contain the enormous blaze, in part due to the large amount of alcohol in the debris.

“The smell of bourbon fills the air near the fire at a Jim Beam bourbon warehouse in Woodford County,” local photojournalist Ryan Hermens said in a tweet.

(REUTERS/ Matt Stone, Courier Journal)

A Jim Beam warehouse, filled with about 45,000 bourbon barrels, was burning Wednesday afternoon after a fire started around 11:30 pm Tuesday at the facility in Woodford County.

(REUTERS/ Pat McDonogh, Courier Journal)

The scene of a bourbon warehouse fire at a Jim Beam distillery in Woodford County, Kentucky, on July 3, 2019.

(REUTERS/ Pat McDonogh, Courier Journal)

The scene of a bourbon warehouse fire at a Jim Beam distillery in Woodford County, Kentucky, on July 3, 2019.

(Twitter photo/ Kentucky Energy & Environment Cabinet)

Firefighters work to contain the fire at the Jim Bean warehouse on Wednesday, July 3, 2019.

The warehouse, located near Versailles, Kentucky, caught fire around 11:30 p.m., local time. Police Lt. Michael Fortney told CNN that a security guard called to report the fire.

Multiple agencies worked to extinguish the blaze, which spread to a second building at the facility, local news station WYMT reports. The warehouse where the fire started has collapsed.

The facility is owned by Beam Suntory, which said in a statement that approximately 45,000 barrels "of relatively young whiskey" were lost in the flames. Luckily, no injuries have been reported in the fire or in the response.

"We are thankful that no one was injured in this incident, and we are grateful to the courageous firefighters from multiple jurisdictions who brought the fire under control and prevented it from spreading," the company said in a statement. "Initial reports suggest the fire resulted from a lightning strike, and we will work with local authorities to confirm the cause and to remediate the impacts."

The company owns 126 barrel warehouses in Kentucky that hold about 3.3 million barrels of whiskey and the company reassured consumers that this incident will "not impact the availability of Jim Beam."

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Still, consumers mourned the loss of all that whiskey. Social media exploded with upset Jim Beam drinkers.

"45,000 barrels of Jim Beam is on fire. This is a sad day," one Twitter user said. Another tweeted: "Thoughts and prayers to all the liquor in the Jim Beam fire."

The cause of the fire is still unknown. Fortney told CNN that lightning could have sparked the fire. Dozens of lightning strikes were reported near Frankfort, Kentucky, located near the flame, between 10 p.m. and 12 a.m.

Woodford County Emergency Management Chief Drew Chandler told CNN that the fire had been way too big and too hot to get a fire investigator near the site to probe the cause. The blaze continued to roar into Wednesday morning.

Lightning Strike Map 7/2 10pm-12am

"[The fire's] purposefully being allowed to burn for several more hours," Chandler told CNN. "The more it burns, the less distilled spirits are in the debris."

This tactic will also prevent any runoff from firefighting efforts to pollute nearby sources of drinking water. The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet’s Emergency Response Team were on scene on Wednesday morning to examine the situation.

“We are, along with local emergency [management] and contract staff, monitoring any impact to Glenn's Cr. [creek] Frankfort's water plant is actively monitoring conditions,” the agency said in a tweet.

Later on Wednesday, the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet wrote on Facebook that due to the impacts of the fire on the Kentucky River, they encourage users to be aware of conditions before utilizing the waterway.

"Runoff from the bourbon fire will create conditions that include water discoloration, foaming, and an odor, as well as low dissolved oxygen levels, which could have a serious impact on the aquatic life in the river, including substantial fish kills. We are working with all parties to limit this impact," the agency wrote in the post.

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