01/23/2008 12:00AM

Oklahoma fire kills more than 40 horses


A barn fire on the property of prominent Quarter Horse trainer Eddie Willis in Caney, Okla., led to the deaths of approximately 43 horses last weekend, according to a firefighter who was at scene.

Roy Blackburn, a firefighter in Caney, said the barn burned to the ground, and that the cause of the blaze is under investigation with the state fire marshall. No human life was lost in the fire.

Blackburn said his department received a call about the fire at 10:30 p.m. Saturday night. Caney's department as well as fire departments from the surrounding towns of Hopewell and Tushka fought the blaze until 4 a.m. Sunday.

"I've been with the fire department for 18 years and have never seen anything like this before," Blackburn said. "I do not care to see anything like it again."

Willis is coming off the best year of his career. His horses won 109 races and a career-best $1.8 million in purses in 2007. Among the major stakes Willis won last year were the Grade 1, $649,400 Heritage Place Futurity for Quarter Horses with Southern Takes All. The race was at Remington Park in Oklahoma City.

Willis did not return phone messages seeking comment about the fire.