Lexington Fire Chief: Stockyard fire biggest in more than 30 years

A large fire began at Bluegrass Stockyards that spread rapidly and consumed multiple other buildings on Saturday, January 30, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Taylor Pence

Cheyene Miller

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Flames engulfed the Bluegrass Stockyard at Lisle Industrial Avenue in what interim fire chief Harold Hoskins called the biggest fire in Lexington in his 33-year career.

About 120 active and reserve Lexington firefighters were on the scene Saturday afternoon as the fire, which started at about 2 p.m., produced clouds of smoke visible from UK campus and beyond.

Hoskins said wind played a major role in the spread of the fire, which completely destroyed businesses and structures between Forbes Road and Lisle Industrial Avenue, and killed about 20 cattle.  No civilians or firefighters were injured, Hoskins said.

According to Lexington Fire Department spokesman Joe Best, five businesses were damaged or destroyed in the fire: Bluegrass Stockyard, Slim’s Towing, Johnson Landscaping Materials, Viking Wholesale and Leak Eliminators.

“As the wind blew through, it (stockyard) was engulfed in flames immediately,” Hoskins said. “It’s just a lot of wood, a lot of combustibles.  It’s been here forever, so it (was) dried out and ready to burn.  But the wind is what caused it to cross the street.”

Hoskins said several cars exploded once flames reached an impound lot in the area.

UK spokesman Jay Blanton said the city has not yet asked the university to assist in any way.

Kenneth Burdine, an assistant extension professor in UK’s Department of Agricultural Economics, said the stockyard was especially important for small farmers who do not have the money to sell truckloads of cattle on their own.

The fire could have done much more damage had it happened on Sunday or Monday, when more cattle would have been in the stockyard waiting to be sold.

“There is a very significant number of cattle that move through the stockyard in Lexington,” Burdine said. “This was a very significant business.”

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray called the performance of Lexington firefighters “extraordinary,” as they arrived at the scene and worked quickly to keep the fire from spreading.

Hoskins advised residents within a half-mile radius of the fire to stay in their homes with their air conditioning units turned off.

Biology junior Tyler Jors said he was studying in the law library when his girlfriend snapped him a picture of the fire.

“My mamma raised me to be an adventurer.  I saw smoke … so I walked on over here like a lot of people did,” Jors said.

Material engineering freshman Rayna Weibrecht said she talked to several friends on campus who could see the massive smoke cloud.

“I was getting some food over at Taco Bell on campus, and I saws the smoke and decided to come on down and check it out,” Weibrcht said.  She said the stockyard fire was the biggest she had ever seen.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but the stockyard is considered a total loss, Hoskins said.

Best said investigators should have the cause of the fire determined within a week.

Gray said the loss of Bluegrass Stockyard was tragic for Lexington. The stockyard was celebrating 70 years of business.