Updated 04/11/12 – 9:27 p.m.

MCHENRY TOWNSHIP, Ill. (CBS) — A large barn fire destroyed a horse barn Wednesday evening in McHenry County, killing several horses.

The five-alarm fire broke out around 5 p.m. at the Black Tie Stable at 101 W. Bay Rd., just east of Johnsburg in unincorporated McHenry County. The stable is owned by local horseman Richard Wright.

WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports the blaze left the barn a charred ruin.

“I’ve never seen a fire as hot as this one was. Everything in there was glowing red. Nothing wasn’t burning,” witness Stanley Michals said. “You could feel the heat from across the street.”

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports

Even before McHenry Township Fire Protection District Chief Tony Huemann arrived with the first units, rescue attempts were underway.

“There was a lot of employees here initially, trying to get in and get those horses out, until we were able to arrive and we pulled them out,” he said. “I mean, they didn’t have air packs on or any oxygen to go in, so we pulled them out and asked them not to go in there. I think a couple of those folks are the ones that we transported to Northern Illinois Medical Center.”

Firefighters faced two disadvantages when they arrived. The fire had a head start, and there are no hydrants nearby, so water had to be trucked in.

“It takes a while to get the tankers in here and get our tanker shuttles set up,” Huemann said. “So you add the fire having a head start and then no water, that creates a huge problem for us.”

Crews from 21 fire departments provided tankers.

“We tried to get in to cut the fire off, and then tried to get to the point where we could get the horses out,” Huemann said. “Apparently, there was about 31 horses in the barn when we arrived. Twenty-four of those horses have been accounted for.”

Huemann said it appears seven horses were killed in the fire. Twenty-two other horses were rescued. Two other horses are believed to be running loose in the nearby woods after fleeing the burning barn.

“The firefighters did a fantastic job trying to save the horses. Initially … some of the firefighters put their lives at risk to try to get in and open up the stalls. We did get a couple of the horses out,” Huemann said.

Neighboring farms and stables were taking in the rescued horses for the night, and rescue teams fanned out in the nearby woods south of the barn to see if other horses escaped.

“It was the longest drive of my life coming here,” Wisconsin horse owner Lisa Miller-Day told CBS 2’s Mike Parker.

Luckily, her family’s horses survived the blaze.

“All three of ours were out, and they’re on a trailer to another barn,” she said.

McHenry County Sheriff’s investigators and the Illinois State Fire Marshall will attempt to determine the cause.

Some neighbors said they heard a barbecue, a bonfire, or a controlled burn was going on near the barn shortly before the blaze broke out.

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