Last week, a massive fire tore through a Jim Beam warehouse in Kentucky, destroying 45,000 barrels of the company's whiskey. The blaze continued for days as barrels of the flammable liquid were purposefully allowed to burn to avoid further contaminating a nearby river by adding more water to the fire that could then run into the river, according to CNN. Officials say a lightning strike was likely the cause.
Similar scenarios have played out over the years in Kentucky.
In 2003, a lightning strike at a Jim Beam warehouse in Bardstown, Kentucky, set the wood-frame structure ablaze and sent 800,000 gallons of flaming bourbon into a nearby retention pond. Seven years prior, a fire broke out at Heaven Hill Distillery, also located in Bardstown, and burning whiskey created what one employee described to the Kentucky Standard newspaper as "a river of fire." And in 2000, a fire at a Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, destroyed nearly 1 million gallons of bourbon.
I wrote about distillery fires and the resources that exist to protect these facilities from fire for the March/April 2018 edition of NFPA Journal.
While the piece—"Small Scale, High Proof"—largely focuses on the boom the United States has seen in recent years in small, craft distilling operations, the fire safety threats and fire protection concepts detailed in the story apply to any distillery, no matter how large or old. The article, for example, shows that hard liquor, usually 40 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) or higher, can give off enough vapor to ignite in air, at relatively low temperatures. It typically has a flashpoint of 79 degrees Fahrenheit, the article says, compared to pure ethyl alcohol with a flashpoint of 55 degrees F.
Read more at nfpa.org/safedistilling.