Jim Beam Distillery Ablaze

August 4, 2003 - Posted at: 3:43 p.m. CDT

BARDSTOWN, Ky. --   Flames engulfed a bourbon warehouse at a Jim Beam facility Monday afternoon, Officer Robin Coomes of the Bardstown Fire Department said.

The fire was reported around 3 p.m. EDT, Coomes said.

Coomes was not certain of the cause of the fire and she said she had not received any reports of injuries.
The massive wooden structure was ablaze and firefighters were focused on three nearby warehouses, said Bardstown City Administrator Larry Green.

"Only one of them is on fire and they're working to make sure that it stays that way and to contain the burning whisky that's coming out of that warehouse," Green said.

A person answering the phone at Jim Beam headquarters in Deerfield, Ill., could not provide any details about the fire.

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.

More than 95 percent of the world's bourbon is produced in Kentucky, where it has been made since the 1780s. More than a half-dozen distilleries are in the region, including Jim Beam, Maker's Mark and Wild Turkey.

Warehouse and distillery fires are typically devastating because of the flammable alcohol.

The last such fire occurred in 2000 when a blaze at a Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg destroyed a seven-story warehouse that held nearly 1 million gallons of aging bourbon in 17,200 barrels.

A similar massive fire at Heaven Hill Distilleries' Bardstown production facility in 1996 destroyed a distilling building and an estimated 2 percent of the world's stored bourbon.

To earn the name, bourbon must be made in the United States, contain at least 51 percent corn in the mash, be distilled at 160 proof or less and aged a minimum of two years in new charred white oak barrels.

In 2001, distillers sold nearly 13.1 million cases of bourbon nationwide last year, worth more than $3 billion.

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