The owner of an Ontario stable where dozens of racehorses died in a fire that started Monday night is calling the incident a “tragedy.”
Barb Millier, who owns Classy Lanes Stables Training Centre in Puslinch, Ont. with her husband Jamie, was visiting Florida when the fire broke out. Speaking to the Star by phone, she said incidents like the blaze are a barn owner’s worst fear.
“We don’t have a clue what started it or anything at this point,” she said, her voice thick with emotion.
“[It’s] devastating for all the people there.”
Millier she didn’t know how many horses were killed, but estimated it was at least 40.
She said her husband was on his way back to Puslinch to deal with the aftermath of the fire.
Veteran trainer Ben Wallace said he had been working with 17 horses that were stabled in the barn, and all of them were lost. Among them was Apprentice Hanover, a bay colt that last month topped $1 million in earnings, and Penji Hanover, who competed in last year’s North America Cup.
“It’s pretty tough to be honest. This is a horse trainer’s nightmare,” he said, adding that those who worked with the animals considered them family members.
“You hear about [barn fires] very rarely, thank god. But if it does happen, you just have to imagine that your own family is in there and they’re dying to get out … and they just perish.”
Wallace said that the fire also destroyed mementos from his career, including Breeder’s Cup trophies.
“I don’t have anything left,” he said.
The blaze began shortly after 11 p.m. on a night when temperatures dipped as low as -20 C, and was fought by 50 firefighters from several communities in the Guelph and Hamilton areas.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation by the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office and the exact financial impact is still being determined, but local fire chief Steven Goode said the scope of the loss is already apparent.
“We consider this a horse community and it is absolutely devastating,” Goode told a news conference.
Goode said the fire was first reported by a neighbour who spotted the blaze at the barn located about 20 kilometres south of Guelph.
Local crews responded quickly, but found the barn with at least 40 horses inside fully engulfed in flames once they arrived on scene, he said.
The dozens of firefighters from Puslinch, Guelph, Cambridge and Hamilton had to struggle with adverse conditions caused by the frigid temperatures, Goode said, adding the wintry weather caused hose lines to keep freezing up and created challenging road conditions.
Goode declined to say exactly how many of the racehorses died in the fire, but described the fire as a “multimillion-dollar” blaze that is “the highest dollar loss that we’ve experienced in our township.”
Millier said the horses traditionally raced at the Mohawk, Woodbine and Flamboro Downs racetracks in southern Ontario.
The Classy Lane website says the facility opened in 2003 and has five barns that accommodate 222 horses.
– With files from The Canadian Press