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McHenry County blaze kills 32 horses: 'I don't know what to do'


Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune A Crystal Lake firefighter puts water on a hot spot at Valley View Acres stable in McHenry Country on Sunday.

Amber Bauman stood in disbelief Sunday morning watching firefighters walk through the smoking debris of her charred horse stable.

She wept with her daughter for the loss of 32 horses that she said were incinerated Saturday night in an extra-alarm fire in unincorporated McHenry County.

White horse trailers sat empty near the scorched wreckage at Valley View Acres horse stable at 5116 Mount Thabor Road near Woodstock. Bauman’s family owned some of the horses, and other

“This is the first time in 35 years I don't own a horse. I don't know what to do anymore,” Bauman, 40, said.

Among the horses that died were award-winning hunting and jumping horses as well as horses used for riding lessons. Bauman said the horses were of many breeds, including Dutch warmbloods, thoroughbreds, ponies of the Americas and Hanoverians. 

One son awoke to an “awkward sound,” looked out the window of their home and saw the stable was on fire, Bauman said.

“It’s every barn owner’s worst thing you can ever hear,” Bauman said.

Bauman said for her family and for others who boarded their horses at the stable the loss dealt an additional blow. an extension of home. This is all my kids know, and it's gone,” she said.

When first responders arrived Saturday night, they saw a big portion of the T-shaped stable in flames, according to a statement released by the Crystal Lake Fire Rescue Department.

Five horses escaped the flames and were found later in a pasture.

A firefighter suffered minor injuries during the fire and was treated and released from a local hospital. No one else was hurt, according to the statement.

The stable was in an area without fire hydrants, so first responders requested additional manpower, equipment and water tenders. Fire departments from 27 surrounding jurisdictions, including Elgin, Lake Zurich and Barrington, helped put out the blaze, according to the statement.

Firefighters declared the fire under control around 12:30 a.m.

The preliminary damage estimate, which includes the lost horses, could be over $1 million, according to the statement.

The state fire marshal examined the area Sunday afternoon and said his investigation would continue Monday.

Bauman said the stable and horses are insured, but that did not offer much solace as she watched the remains of her livelihood become ash Sunday.

“Insurance doesn’t bring back horses,” she said as she choked back tears.

In particular, Bauman said she was heartbroken by the loss of her “best friend” Eve, an appendix breed horse (a cross between a quarter horse and a thoroughbred). Bauman bought Eve when she was 10 and the horse was a foal. She recalled paying all her savings, $82.73, for the new pet.

“I said, ‘On New Year’s Eve I’m going to buy that horse,’ and her name was Eve. And I bought her,” Bauman said.

And they grew up together, Bauman said.

“She pulled the carriage at my wedding, I rode her in a homecoming parade, my kids grew up riding her. … It’s kind of like saying goodbye to what’s left of your childhood,” she said.

After 35 years, Bauman said she was heartbroken about the way Eve perished.

“Every night I would pray that if she died she would go in her sleep,” Bauman said. “She fell asleep last night and went to heaven. And she took 31 of her besties [sic] with her.”

Tribune reporter Alexandra Chachkevitch and photographer Stacey Wescott contributed.



TO HELP:
A fund is set up at Hebron State Bank in the Bauman's name. Mail checks to Hebron State Bank, 9600 Main Street, Hebron, IL 60034
to help them recover from this disaster.

Several facebook/online accounts are set up as well.  One is at Youcaring.com and gofundme.com.