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A dead, bloated catfish floats on the Kentucky River near Kentucky River Campground on July 5, 2019. Runoff from a Jim Beam warehouse fire in Woodford County this week lowered oxygen levels in the river. (Photo by McKenna Horsley)

On a typical Fourth of July weekend, campers line the marina at Kentucky River Campground, but on Friday, they stayed away from the dock and riverbanks. Thursday's sweet smell of bourbon was replaced with bloated fish. 

The fish baked in the sun and flowed along the river with old bourbon foam through the lower pool near the campground. 

The debris was the result of spills from a late-night fire Tuesday at a Jim Beam warehouse on the Woodford-Franklin County line. The fire destroyed about 45,000 barrels of young Jim Beam bourbon, and debris from the fire went into nearby Glenns Creek and then into the Kentucky River. Lowered oxygen levels are leading to fish kills. 

While recreational activity hasn't been banned in the wake of the spill, fish kills are taking their toll on life in and along the river. 

Kentucky River Campground shareholders John Cox and Jerry Vance expect the smell to get worse in the next few days. On Friday, the two talked about ways to move the dead fish lodged between docked boats and away from their banks. Cox said that the river was starting to "green up" on Friday after being a mocha color. 

"The problem is going to start occurring in the next day or two," Vance said.

The fish will have been in the sun for four to five days at that point. While Frankfort's had its fair share of rain recently, another shower could help aerate the water and put more oxygen into it, he said. Weather.com predicts a 50% chance of scattered thunderstorms Saturday and a 40% chance Sunday.

Cox said that debris from the fire started appearing near the campground on Thursday, but it wasn't as prevalent as Friday, when hundreds of dead fish floated through the channel. 

Most of the dead fish are white perch, catfish or carp, Vance said. Some live catfish, which are bottom feeders, are swimming up to the surface of the river. Crawdads and several turtles also came out of the water Thursday, crawling up on the dock or finding a spot on a floating tree branch. Cox said he didn't know that crawdads were in the area before this. 

"You don't see that. You've never seen that," Cox said. 

Some Frankfort boaters noticed a faint smell of bourbon on the Kentucky River near the Frankfort Boat Club's docks on the Fourth of July morning. 

Frankfort Boat Club Commodore Kevin Moore said that either the smell of bourbon decreased throughout Thursday or boaters just got used to the odor. He said that the spill has not deterred boaters from using the river. 

"We were out all day," Moore said. 

Moore said that he doesn't expect any adverse effects from the spill for recreational boaters. He said that he has not personally discovered a fish kill as a result of the Jim Beam fire, but he has heard from other Boat Club members that runoff from the Wild Turkey fire in Lawerenceburg a few years ago did create noticeable fish kills in the river. That incident was before Moore's membership in the Boat Club began. 

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