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Twenty-seven horses die in Charles Town fire

September 06, 2010|By DAVE McMILLION
  • Firefighters put out hot spots at the scene of mulitple barns that caught fire early Monday morning in Charles Town, W.Va., behind the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. Twenty-seven horses perished in the blaze and 26 were rescued.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer,

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- A fire early Monday that destroyed four barns next to Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races killed 27 racehorses, and witnesses said they heard squealing from the animals that were trapped in the blaze.

Independent Fire Co. Chief Ed Smith said it was the worst fire he has witnessed involving animals.

Stephen Reggetts, a horse owner who responded to the fire to rescue the animals from the barns on Race Track Street, said he could hear horses "banging at the walls and screaming" inside of the stables.

"Unfortunately, when we arrived we heard some of that. But it didn't last long. The fire was so intense," Smith said.

Smith said late Monday that fire marshals might have found two more dead horses at the scene, but he could not confirm the report.

He said 26 horses were rescued, and some were moved to a barn owned by the racetrack.

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Officials said Monday afternoon that it was unclear what started the fire, which was reported at 4:41 a.m. More than 40 firefighters were able to prevent the blaze from spreading to barns on either side of the four that were destroyed.

Assistant State Fire Marshal Patrick Barker said Monday that his department was trying to determine the cause of the fire. Parker said he did not know how long the investigation would take.

"I don't think he's going to find anything. With a total burn like this, it's hard to come up with a source," Smith said.

The barns were owned by three people who leased stalls in the buildings, Smith said.

One of the owners, Stephen Spears, said it will be hard to make a damage estimate until the barn owners meet with the owners of the horses to determine their losses.

Don Poper, who trains racehorses at the track said they can range in value from $4,000 to $8,000. Other equipment that would have been destroyed included saddles, feed tubs and gates, Poper said.

Electric power to the barns was knocked out after the fire began, and Poper described trying to find horses in the dark in some of the barns.

Poper said he first saw a gray horse in one of the barns and sent him out of the building.

The fire became too intense to save other horses, Poper said.

"It was just like a wall of fire coming at you," he said.

Reggetts, who owns horses but did not have any in the barns, said he started rescuing horses from the barns and putting them in a fenced pen.

"We just jammed them in there. I was just trying to find a safe place to put them," Reggetts said.

One horse owner at the scene said two of his horses died in the fire. The man, who declined to give his name, said he "lost everything" in the fire and will have to start over.

"I was so upset. I lost it," the man said, describing his reaction to the blaze.

Firefighters arrived at 4:53 a.m. and connected to a fire hydrant near a parking garage at the track, Smith said. They pulled water lines to the scene and started fighting the fire at 4:57 a.m., Smith said.

Although the fire was under control in about 30 minutes, the blaze was so intense that there was nothing firefighters could do to save the four barns, Smith said. Firefighters and others worked through the morning, removing the remains of horses, Smith said.

When the call was dispatched, officials could see heavy smoke from quite a distance, Smith said. When he arrived at the barns, flames were shooting about 50 feet in the air, Smith said.

One of the barns that was destroyed was nearly burned to the ground when firefighters arrived, and the other three barns had varying levels of damage, Smith said. To keep the blaze from spreading to other barns, firefighters used two water lines each capable of releasing about 1,000 gallons a minute, Smith said.

When word of the fire spread, people began arriving at the scene in an attempt to rescue horses. Smith said he was told two of the animals that were freed were seen at a local 7-Eleven.

Curious onlookers steadily passed by the scene of the fire Monday, including Ranson Mayor David Hamill.

"What can you say? Your heart just bleeds for these people involved," Hamill said.

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