A candle caused a two-alarm fire that extensively damaged a multipurpose building at The Thoroughbred Center on Paris Pike on Wednesday, investigators said.
Initial investigation found that a candle left unattended in an apartment started the fire, Lexington fire Battalion Chief Joe Best said. Although the investigation is continuing, officials don't think the fire was intentionally set, Best said.
The blaze, discovered about 8:15 a.m., kept firefighters busy for more than two hours. Wind caused the flames to flare up repeatedly.
A female employee at the center complained of smoke inhalation but declined to be taken to a hospital, fire officials said. A male firefighter was taken to a hospital to be checked after inhaling smoke but wasn't injured, they said.
No horses were in the area where the fire occurred.
Fire department Maj. Lee Hayden said that after the first units arrived, senior officers called in a second alarm because of the aggressiveness of the blaze and the size of the building.
Just before 9 a.m., officers sounded an alarm alerting all firefighters to evacuate the two-story building because the blaze was heating up. Crews then poured water onto the fire from two ladder trucks.
Even so, thick smoke and periodic flames continued. Hayden finally reported about 10:30 a.m. that the fire was out, and firefighters were checking for hot spots that might rekindle.
Hayden estimated that 78 firefighters worked the blaze, in addition to police officers, utility workers and others.
"This was not a typical fire," Hayden said.
The Thoroughbred Center, which offers training facilities and other equine services, is owned by Keeneland Race Course.
Firefighters remained Wednesday afternoon, and northbound Paris Pike, which was closed to traffic because of all the emergency equipment, didn't reopen until about 2 p.m.
Officials said the building lost most of its roof. Best said damage could total hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The building housed some offices and apartments, and Central Kentucky Tack & Leather, a business that provides handcrafted leather products for the horse industry.
Katie Tibbs, who works at Central Kentucky Tack, said the fire spread quickly to the front of the building, leaving little time to remove merchandise from the tack shop.
Employees did save what appeared to be a few dozen bridles, halters, saddles and other leather items, which they put in the sun to dry. The items had been soaked by water from fire hoses. Workers expected to sort through more merchandise and equipment in the building to determine what was salvageable.
Officials said the flames never reached the main offices of the Thoroughbred Center, which is attached to the multipurpose building by a breezeway.
Keeneland and center officials will assess the damage and figure out how to move forward, said Amy Gregory, communications director at Keeneland. Built in 1969 as the Kentucky Horse Center, the center was once owned by Spendthrift Farm and Churchill Downs before Keeneland bought it in 2000 and changed its name.
Gregory praised the fire department for limiting the fire to one building and keeping people and horses safe.
She said there would be no cancellations or changes in events because of the fire.
After Keeneland bought the center, it added more barns, allowing the facility to house as many as 1,180 horses. Two tracks are available for training. Typical occupancy, according to the center's website, is 900 to 1,000 horses. The center is open all year. Keeneland's aim was to make the center "the most popular Thoroughbred training facility in the country," it said.