LEBANON, Ohio — A fire ripped through a horse barn at a county fairgrounds Saturday in southwest Ohio, killing two men and 43 horses, authorities said.
The barn roof had already collapsed by the time firefighters arrived at the Warren County Fairgrounds, about 25 miles northeast of Cincinnati, according to Capt. Krista Wyatt of the Lebanon Fire Department. The fire was reported about 5 a.m.
The bodies of the men were pulled from the barn and were badly burned, said Shane Cartmill, a spokesman for the Ohio State Fire Marshal.
A horse owner identified the men as Ronnie Williams and James Edwards, both trainers at a harness racing racetrack based at the fairgrounds. Victor Gray, who owned three of the horses that died, said he'd known Williams nearly 40 years.
Cartmill was unable to confirm the identities late Saturday. Lamar Moody, lead trainer at Lebanon Raceway, said two of his employees were not accounted for.
No one was supposed to be in the stables overnight and it was not clear if the two men killed were working early or sleeping in the barn.
“It's a terrible situation,” said Gray, a Lebanon resident. “This is something that didn't have to happen.”
The cause of the blaze was under investigation, but state fire investigators say they have ruled out criminal intent.
Horse owners stood stunned as they watched heavy machinery peel back the metal roof of the collapsed structure so firefighters could sift through the debris and extinguish what remained of the blaze. The barn was about the length of a football field.
The horses weren't pets but nonetheless were “part of the family, our kids,” Gray said.
“We loved those horses.”
In 1988, a fire in a similar part of the county-owned racetrack and fairgrounds killed 35 horses. No one was killed in that fire.