Barn Fire Kills 23 Thoroughbreds in Kentucky

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23 Horses Die in Fatal Fire at Mercury Equine Center in Lexington

An early morning fire tore through the Mercury Equine Center in Lexington, KY Sunday, killing 23 horses. The blaze happened from an apparent electrical issue and could have been impacted by severe lightning storms in the area.

The barn that housed the horses was the John T. Ward Stables, which is located behind Keeneland Race Course and across Rice Road from Keeneland Gate 3. A total of three barns and 160 stalls house over 100 thoroughbreds on the property.

Debris lies on the ground after a fire at the Mercury Equine Center in Lexington, Ky. Center owner Eric Reed said dozens of horses were inside the barn and several were saved before the building started to collapse.

The owner of the Mercury Equine Center, Eric Reed, is also a horse trainer. He was on property when the fire broke out near 1:15 a.m. and rushed to save the horses with six other employees. One of the rescuers didn’t take time to dress before jumping in half naked to save the horses, Reed said.

A total of 36 horses were inside the barn, and 13 were saved as they escaped the blaze. Nearly 50 horses in other barns at the facility were unharmed.

“They were heroes, the people who work for me,” Reed said. “They went above and beyond what I could even imagine anybody trying to do. We ran into the barn, the smoke was so black we couldn’t even see. The only thing you could see was the flames.”

The devastating damage is estimated at over $1.2 million to rebuild the barn and replace supplies and equipment. But the loss of 23 horses is painful and heartbreaking.

“Most of the horses were yearlings who “were very well-bred,” Reed said. One of the horses killed included a 3-year-old filly who had recently won $100,000 in a stakes race, Reed said.

“I’ll never get this nightmare out of my mind,” said Reed, who has been notifying the horse owners of the tragedy.

The fire and incident is under investigation, but Reed said he believes more horses could have been saved had the fire department responded more quickly.

“There’s a fire station five minutes down the road but it took 39 minutes before they could get there to help us,” Reed said. “We actually called 911 twice asking where is the fire department. It’s absolutely unacceptable…The fire department really let us down.”

On Monday afternoon, Mayor Jim Gray’s spokeswoman, Susan Straub, said that an analysis of 911 records showed that it took about 20 minutes for the fire department to be dispatched and arrive at Mercury.

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