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posted: 4/13/2012 7:00 PM

McHenry-area stable fire ruled accidental; all horses accounted for

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Investigators have a few theories but can only speculate what caused the stable fire that killed 18 horses Wednesday evening near McHenry, leading officials to rule the blaze accidental and of undetermined origin.

"It's unfortunate because my job as chief is to find the cause of a fire, but the barn was a total loss and there's no way to determine it," McHenry Township Fire Protection District Chief Tony Huemann said Friday.

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There were a few possible causes to the five-alarm fire that gutted the 20,000-square-foot Black Tie Stable facility on Bay Road, he said, including a controlled burn earlier in the day, a lit charcoal grill and a heat lamp.

"We can't confirm any of them were the actual cause," he said. "We just know there's nothing that appears suspicious."

Officials also closed the book on the final death toll, saying they're now certain that a total of 18 horses died and another 22 horses escaped, McHenry County Department of Health spokeswoman Debra Quackenbush said.

"That's the final count," she said. "It's been determined there were 40 horses in the stable."

Considering multiple stables in Lake and McHenry counties volunteered to take in the surviving horses and at least two went missing, there was confusion for a while as to how many animals were present when the fire started. Initial reports ranged from about 22 up to 50.

Volunteers searched by foot, ATV, horseback and helicopter to find the missing horses, which were briefly spotted Wednesday night in Volo Bog. Though it's unclear exactly when they were picked up or by whom, Quackenbush said all have been accounted for.

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