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A fish carcass floats on top of the Ohio River just before the Lewis & Clark Bridge in Utica. Staff photo by Tyler Stewart

SOUTHERN INDIANA — In the aftermath of a blaze at a Jim Beam barrel warehouse in Kentucky last week, hundreds of dead fish have appeared in the Ohio River along Indiana shores this week.

One resident reported seeing 30 to 40 fish with his naked eye flowing downstream from the Utica area. When using binoculars, the line of floating fish grew even more.

According to wildlife organizations from both Indiana and Kentucky, the fish aren’t dying in the Ohio River. Whatever residents in Indiana are seeing is instead the remnants of damage done in the Kentucky River. No further damage is expected to impact wildlife in the area.

“Anything that washes up on the Indiana side of the Ohio River will more than likely be fish that were killed as a result of the distillery fire in Kentucky,” said Tara Wolf, director of communications at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. “Any remaining alcohol or deoxygenated plume should be diluted enough not to cause problems. Anything that you’re seeing are fish that were killed there that have floated down.”

About 45,000 barrels of whiskey were lost in the fire, resulting in a 23-mile-long “alcohol plume” from the bourbon runoff, according to a social media post from the Kentucky Energy and Environmental Cabinet.

That plume of ash, water runoff from fighting the fire and bourbon led to a massive loss of fish in the Kentucky River near Woodford County, Ky. The fish then flowed into the Ohio River in Carrollton, Ky., where the two rivers meet.

“The expectation from our biologist is that the plume that traveled down the Kentucky River is going to dissipate fairly quickly,” said Kevin Kelly, spokesperson at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. “We expect those fish will decompose fairly quickly and sink to the bottom. Once any remaining fish move through, that should be the end.”

Kelly said officials have ended the documentation phase of their efforts. Now, they will analyze their findings before releasing any information detailing the environmental impact.

“As this plume goes through the Kentucky River, we had crews documenting the effect on wildlife and did that for several miles,” Kelly said. “Those fish counts wrapped up on Monday. What they’re doing now is shifting their attention to data entry and analysis, but it’s safe to say thousands of fish have been affected by this. It’s going to be several weeks before they can analyze that data. I know everybody wants a final tally, but that’s going to take some time.”

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