Officials say that recent lightning-producing storm cells have caused not only delay in the cleanup of the collapsed O.Z. Tyler rickhouse, but also worry that a strike could produce fire.
Lightning is suspected to be the cause of Wednesday’s early morning fire at Jim Beam in Woodford County, where 45,000 barrels of bourbon were lost. The fire blazed for over 12 hours, with officials letting the flames run their course to avoid ethanol contamination in a nearby creek that runs into the Kentucky River.
O.Z. Tyler officials have removed about 3,000 barrels from the collapse as of late afternoon Wednesday, but 16,000 are still mixed with the wooden rick house debris, which Owensboro Fire Chief Steve Mitchell said is perfect combustible material.
“All along we have been worried about storms and lightning going through,” Mitchell said. “The Jim Beam situation just highlights the danger.”
Daviess County Emergency Management Agency Director Andy Ball has requested the National Weather Service out of Paducah to provide lightning overwatch for the O.Z. Tyler Distillery clean up.
“They call me anytime lightning is within 10 miles,” he said. “We have had to shut down their clean up operations a couple times now due to lightning.”
O.Z. Tyler Master Distiller and Director of Operations Jacob Call said while all of the bourbon warehouses at the distillery have lightning protection, the collapsed rickhouse is certainly susceptible to a strike.
“Fortunately, that’s not the tallest structure in the area now, so maybe the pile of barrels would be safe,” he said. “But it’s always a concern.”
Mitchell said the combustible nature of the alcohol, wooden barrels and rickhouse structure is also the reason the City of Owensboro placed a ban on fireworks in the half-mile radius of O.Z. Tyler.
“We have been known to have fireworks spark fires in out buildings, storage buildings and garages,” he said. “We know fireworks can still smolder once they get into combustible materials and then burn.”
According to Owensboro Police Department Public Information Officer Andrew Boggess, he is not aware of any instances where the northwest fireworks ban needed to be enforced, but officers are ready to do so if necessary.
“First we would make them aware of the ordinance, then it could result in a citation,” Boggess said. “Particularly when it is a new or temporary order such as that our first option would be to educate and make sure people are aware of the new rule though.”
Call said the entire structure is down and deconstruction is going to plan. He hopes to have a meeting with local authorities next week to reevaluate safety precautions.
“Now that the structure is down, I am hopeful that within a couple weeks we can get the road back open,” Call said. Nearby Ewing Road has been closed since the June 17 collapse.
Mitchell is also hopeful that with the progress the distillery has made relocating the barrels from the collapse, the fireworks ban can be lifted in a few weeks also.
“Even though the newness of the situation has worn off, the concern still exists,” he said.