LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Fire is a threat that always lingers in barns. Hay is perfect tinder. It's why no smoking signs are everywhere and why some trainers and grooms bed down in the stables for the night.
Friday morning firefighters received a call from the tower at Lexington's Blue Grass Airport, where staff members could see flames rising from behind Keeneland Race Course.
That's why Battalion Chief Mark Harvey knew the battle had little hope.
"We work real hard, but sometimes (the fire) is too far ahead of us," Harvey said "We try to clean it up from there."
Eight thoroughbreds died in the fire on the John T. Ward Farm, named for the executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, and the trainer of the 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos.
Ward had leased the barn that to Gerry Carwood.
"All the horses, the roof collapsed," Carwood told Lexington NBC affiliate WLEX. "That's all I can say."
Carwood was able to save two foals from a shed. He was training the horses for other owners. Their names were not immediately available.
"You do all you can to protect your horses and your people, that's all you can do," veteran trainer Rosalind Brennan said Friday afternoon.
Brennan was at Churchill Downs for the spring meet. She had been training barely two years when she witnessed a barn fire that claimed 31 horses at Ellis Park in Henderson, Kentucky in 1978.
Churchill Downs barns have sprinkler systems and fire extinguishers. No smoking signs are posted everywhere, but Brennan believes the best fire prevention, is presence.
"Watch ‘em ‘round the clock," she said. "And a lot of times, you know-the grooms live at the barns. They're gonna hear something, see something. The horses are gonna get agitated and they're gonna know something's not right."
Carwood told firefighters a barking dog alerted him to the fire. The burned barn once housed tobacco. It was unclear whether it had been retro-fitted with sprinklers and smoke alarms, or who had served watch.
Investigators are still trying to determine how the fire started.
"It's horrifying," Brennan said. "But sometimes, these things happen."
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