Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Jim Beam warehouse incinerated

No one injured; lightning might be to blame

By Ellen R. Stapleton
The Associated Press

BARDSTOWN, Ky. - Fire engulfed a Jim Beam warehouse in the heart of Kentucky bourbon country Monday, sending alcohol-fueled flames high in the air before the seven-story structure collapsed.

The pile of debris from the metal-and-wood structure that held 800,000 gallons of whiskey continued burning hours after the fire was reported around 3 p.m. Bardstown Fire Chief Anthony Mattingly said there were no reports of injuries.

Firefighters trained water jets on two nearby warehouses in an attempt to save them, while a fire truck stood by at a third. "Once the warehouse is engulfed in flames, the best course of action for the fire departments is to protect the surroundings," said Joe Prewitt, director of Nelson County Emergency Management Services.

A statement from Jim Beam's headquarters in Deerfield, Ill., said the fire began after it was struck by lightning. Mattingly suspected that lightning caused the fire, but could not confirm that until the investigation is complete. A severe storm warning was in effect for the area about the time of the fire, said James Brotherton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Louisville.

"There was a lot of lightning," Brotherton said.

The company said the warehouse held approximately 19,000 barrels of bourbon, or less than 2 percent of its bourbon inventory.

"We are grateful that no one was harmed, and we appreciate the heroic efforts of the first responders and the local fire-fighting personnel," said Rich Reese, president of Jim Beam Brands Worldwide.

Mattingly, the Bardstown fire chief, said bourbon from the warehouse ran off into a creek near the rear of the building. The creek caught fire, and firefighters began to dam up the area.

"If there's any alcohol or if there are any byproducts that wash into the stream from the structure fire, that could wind up being harmful to the aquatic life," said Wayne Davis, an environmental section chief for the state Division of Fish and Wildlife.

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