A trainer at a horse stable that burned early Wednesday, causing over $500,000 in damages and leaving many of the animals dead, said those affected by the tragedy are “all starting over anew.”
Eighteen horses died when flames roared through a barn, which eventually collapsed at the Del Real Stables at 1120 Wheeler Road in southwest suburban Plainfield.
“The last 24 hours have been the worst time in some of our lives,” Katie Albert, a volunteer trainer at Del Real who lost three horses in the blaze, wrote on the stable’s Facebook page Thursday afternoon. “Many of these horses were not just animals to us, they were our best friends, companions and teammates.”
“Everything was lost in this fire so we are all starting over anew,” she added.
Firefighters were called about 1:15 a.m. to the fire, which may have started in a detached semi-trailer filled with sawdust and wood chips for horse bedding, Plainfield Fire Deputy Chief Jon Stratton said. That trailer was next to the building and also caught fire.
On Thursday afternoon, Stratton said the cause of the blaze remains under investigation, and insurance investigators could be looking over the ruins as early as Friday.
“The fire came in from the west side and ran so fast,” Stratton said. “I can’t believe how fast it ran.” He believes straw in a loft area helped fuel the blaze.
A preliminary damage estimate is about $300,000 for the barn and contents, and $240,000 for the horses killed, Stratton said.
Raul Del Real, the stable’s owner, estimated Friday evening that the damage to the barn would cost between $300,000 and $450,000, but couldn’t estimate the cost of the horses.
Thirty-one horses were in the barn at the time, and 13 survived, Albert said. However, Del Real claimed Friday evening that only 12 horses survived, with 18 dead.
Del Real declined to comment on the cause of the fire, citing the ongoing investigation.
Albert said it was first thought that several horses had run away, but all were accounted for among those found in the barn, which boarded horses that belonged to multiple owners.
Four horses were taken to animal hospitals, two with severe burns, according to Alison Powers, a veterinarian with Premier Equine Veterinarian Service in Lemont, who spent Wednesday visiting the 13 surviving horses at various clinics and stables.
“Things will get worse for them before they get better,” Powers said. “We’re keeping a close eye on them over the next 72 hours.”
The other horses mostly suffered minor cuts and superficial wounds, she said, adding that the tragedy was bringing together the already close-knit equine community.
Fox Valley Equine Practice has set up a donation fund through the American Veterinary Medical Foundation to help pay medical bills for the injured horses, four of which are in the care of Kendall Road Equine Hospital.
“One horse is severely burned and could have a lengthy stay,” a statement from Fox Valley Equine said. “Yesterday’s barn fire is every horse owner’s worst nightmare. Your donation is a way that the horse community can help one another.”
Donations can be made online. If donations exceed medical bills, any leftover will be used to benefit abused or neglected horses, injured or abandoned horses, or horse owners experiencing medical challenges or financial hardships, the post said.
A statement on Kendall Road’s Facebook page read: “Our hearts are completely broken hearing about the tragic barn fire in Plainfield last night. Godspeed to all the beautiful equine souls lost. Every horse person’s worst nightmare. We are so very sorry for everyone involved.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help offset the medical costs of Spencer, one the horses that suffered the worst injuries — “severe burns” on his back and dehydration from the heat. He is among the horses at Kendall Road, the post said.
The barn was in a rural area with no fire hydrants, said Mary Ludemann, a spokeswoman for the Plainfield Fire Department. Water had to be shuttled to the barn in tankers, she said.
Two adults were injured, authorities said. One suffered a sprained ankle and was taken to Edward Quick Care in Plainfield. The other had difficulty breathing and was taken to Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet. Both were in good condition.
“People are still in shock. I think now it’s starting to set in, the devastation of what happened,” Powers said.
Albert’s family lost three of their four horses in the fire, including her first horse Blondy, which she had for over a decade.
They have asked for donations of hay, grain, basic grooming supplies, buckets, blankets, fly spray, helmets, grain containers, vet wrap, pitchforks and hay nets. Anyone wishing to donate can call or text (815) 531-4181.
In the wake of the tragedy, Albert’s father, Marty Albert, said his family was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from people across the country. The family has already received offers to relocate their remaining horse to a new stable for free, or at a reduced rate.
“We didn’t even have to say anything,” he said. “It’s just amazing.”
The stable’s owner, Raul Del Real, declined to comment on this story.