"I started off by just putting their halters on and pulling them out by twos, but then the fire started getting quicker so I just started wrapping their ropes around their necks and just tying them around my arms and pulling them out," Madison Wallraf recalled.
The Wednesday evening fire at the M&R Overlook Farms in suburban McHenry, Illinois raged for about two hours.
With no hydrants, water had to be trucked in to fight the blaze that consumed the 25,000 square-foot metal barn.
Wallraf described how she crawled through the aisle to rescue the frantic horses as flames flanked her and smoke filled the space to about three feet off the floor.
"I got kicked in the shoulder by one of the horses in there and I got knocked down a few times, but my adrenaline was so high at the time that it didn't phase me," said the 4-foot, 10-inch teen.
Ultimately, 16 horses died.
Three more escaped.
An aerial search Thursday morning using thermal imaging was called off by midday, and it's hoped the horses will return.
"We know they're out in the woods, we just dont' know where," said McHenry Township Fire District Chief Tony Huemann.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.