JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. — Dead fish are appearing in the Ohio River visible from the Southern Indiana shore as a result of a massive bourbon fire last week at a Jim Beam barrel warehouse in Kentucky.
The fish are being spotted in water flowing downstream from the Utica area and are "certainly" related to the July 2 bourbon spill in Woodford County, Ky., according to John Mura, spokesman for the Kentucky Energy and Environmental Cabinet.
Jim Fitzgerald, who has lived in Quarry Bluff in Jeffersonville for 10 years, spotted a trail of fish Tuesday while driving across the Lewis and Clark Bridge, and then pulled off for a closer look after crossing the bridge.
“I just thought it was odd to see a bunch of white things floating in the middle of the river," he said. "I thought it was Styrofoam at first there in that long stretch of river.”
After pulling out a pair of binoculars, Fitzgerald saw what he says are hundreds of fish “all up and down … many, many, many, hundreds … big fish, too."
Mick Rutherford, conservation officer with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, said the department became aware Tuesday afternoon that the Ohio River was seeing effects of the bourbon blaze. DNR will be working with the Indiana and Kentucky departments of emergency management to monitor the developing situation, according to Rutherford.
Beam Suntory, Jim Beam’s parent company, has stated that 45,000 barrels of whiskey went up in flames last week, which resulted in an “alcohol plume” from the bourbon runoff in the Kentucky River that is approximately 23 miles long, according to a social media post from the Kentucky Energy and Environmental Cabinet.
Now that plume — a mixture of ash, water runoff from fighting the fire and bourbon — has spread to the Ohio River along Southern Indiana's shore, after seeping into the waterway in Carrollton, Ky., where the Kentucky and Ohio rivers meet.
The Kentucky Energy and Environmental Cabinet's emergency response team was on the Kentucky River on Tuesday, monitoring oxygen levels at the trailing edge of the plume, which was expected to fully flow into the Ohio River, according to a post on the cabinet's Facebook page.
Fitzgerald, who said he could see 30 to 40 dead fish with the naked eye, was surprised that the fallout from the Jim Beam fire made its way to Southern Indiana.
“Funny to see how things travel,” he said.
“My reaction would be as long as it really doesn't hurt the integrity of the river," Fitzgerald added. "I know it’s going to kill some fish and that’s just, it is what it is. I don’t expect anybody to be fined or anything like that.”
But that's exactly what could happen, according to newsgatherting partner WAVE 3 News.
The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, along with Kentucky environmental officials, are investigating the damage caused by the plume, assessing wildlife impacts and collecting fish kill counts — with Beam Suntory likely being issued violations and fines, WAVE reported.
Area residents, including Fitzgerald, are likely to do a different kind of investigating.
As the impact of the plume leaves its toll along the Southern Indiana shoreline, Fitzgerald says he’s “looking forward” to seeing all the eagles and vultures have a field day with the dead fish.
— News and Tribune staff writers Elizabeth DePompei and Aprile Rickert contributed to this report.