The fire that killed 19 Tennessee Walking Horses at the Troy Yokley Stables in Shelbyville, Tenn., could have been less tragic with a smoke alarm, officials said.

A fire burned down the barn on Harrison Road on July 1, causing an estimated $710,000 in damage. Yokley trains young horses, some of which have advanced to the World Grand Championships.

“We recommend that all Wallking Horse barns, or any horse barn, have smoke alarms. A lot of barns do. We get false alarms all the time, but we’d rather go to them than this,” Bedford County Fire Chief Mark Thomas said.

“I could hear the horses in the barn, and it’s the awfulest sound you ever heard. My house is near the barn. It sounded like I had them on a rope and was slinging them around and bouncing them off the walls. I got up and looked out and saw a glow, and l saw flames shooting 200 feet in air. I called 911. The horses were locked in their stalls, and didn’t have a prayer,” Yokley said.

Thomas said firefighters arrived at the scene around 3 a.m. and the roof had already fallen in. The horse barn was roughly 70 feet wide by 206 feet long. Thomas said after the tin roofing caved in, firefighters had to go in and tear down the steel walls to get to the flames still burning under the roof. It had not been smothered. The fire chief said the fire appeared to have started in middle of the large metal building and spread about 30 feet in either direction. Firefighters were hampered by the large amount of hay that was in the barn, Thomas said. By the time they (firefighters) had arrived, they were mainly just spraying items to keep the fire from spreading, such as his trailer and a propane tank with 500 gallons in it, Yokley said.

Yokley, who told investigators he was a partner in the ownership of most of the horses, said he arrived home around 1a.m., and had driven around the barn and everything appeared okay. He had added on to the barn in recent months. He had added a 30 foot by 60 foot shed off the barn and put in a feed bin. The damage was estimated at about $300,000 in horses, $350,000 from the building and $60,000 from the equipment. The cause is still under investigation.

“It took four years to build it and 20 minutes to lose it,” Yokley said. The horses that died, comprised of three two-year-olds and the rest yearlings, were out of world champions such as Jazz Man, JFK, Push Me Bold, Jose, MG, Silver Dollar, Bustin Loose. He said that one client, Harold Daniels, lost two colts totaling $25,000. He said the fire would have been much worse had it happened a month later, when he would have had 35-40 head in it.

Yokley said he started riding Walking Horses at age 10 and rode 10-15 horses a day back then when he wasn’t in school. He currently rides about 12 a day.

The fire chief said that the Bill Bobo stables had a close call two or three years ago when a smoke alarm detected a fire.

“That’s what saved his horses and his barn,” Thomas said. Bobo rode The Whole Nine Yards to the Tennessee Walking horse world grand championship last year.

Yokley said he plans to rebuild.