The fire Saturday occurred 50 miles northwest of Chicago at Valley View Acres, a boarding facility that also breeds and trains thoroughbreds and show-jumping horses, and offers riding lessons to children.
As firefighters arrived before midnight Saturday, the stable's owners were running around the burning complex looking for ways to lead horses to safety as the two-story structure collapsed, Crystal Lake Fire Rescue Chief Paul Deraedt said in a phone interview.
"They were frantic," he said about the stable's owners, Tyson and Amber Bauman. "But nothing could have survived the conditions inside. ... They are devastated."
TV footage of the scene Sunday morning showed blackened remains of the stable piled against a white fence and a damaged horse trailer, with firefighters still spraying water on smouldering wreckage.
One woman crying and bearing flowers said she'd owned her horse for 30 years. Firefighters tried to determine where her horse died and laid the flowers for her in the rubble near it, Deraedt said.
"Talking to these people ... they were very close to their horses," he said.
The Baumans were at an Illinois Hunter Jumper Association awards banquet Saturday and returned home after the blaze began, The Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake reported. Two of their children were at home but weren't injured.
It was the Bauman's son who awoke to the sound a fire crackling nearby and then called the fire department to say heavy smoke and flames were coming from the stable, Deraedt said.
Deraedt said five of 37 horses thought to have been in the stable when the fire began survived and are in good condition. He said 32 horses appeared to have perished, though authorities would finalize that number after sifting through the debris.
Authorities estimates the total value of the horses that perished at more than $1 million, with many of the individual horses valued at between $50,000 and $75,000.
Deraedt said Sunday the cause of the fire was unknown, but that an investigation was underway. The blaze appeared to have started in the portion of the stable-and-barn complex where hay is stored, he said.
As he surveyed the devastation Sunday, Tyson Bauman told the Crystal Lake newspaper the family bought the facility in unincorporated Woodstock eight years ago, in part, because horses were his wife's passion.
"It was an honour for us to buy it," he said.