27 horses killed in fire near Charles Town Races in W.Va.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
At least 27 thoroughbred racehorses died Monday near West Virginia's Charles Town Races after a fire broke out at a group of privately owned stables, local and race officials said.
The fire started about 4:45 a.m. Horse owners and tourists worked to free the animals as fire enveloped several wooden barns across the street from the racetrack and the Hollywood Casino. About 26 horses were saved, said Ed Smith, chief of the Charles Town Independent Fire Company.
"It was feeding time, and a lot of people saw the fire going, but it all happened very quickly," said Ken Lowe, president of the Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association.
Smith said that investigators had not determined what caused the fire but that state fire marshals on the scene said it was probably accidental. Two people, a casino employee and a firefighter, suffered minor injuries while battling the blaze, officials said. Three wooden barns were destroyed, and a fourth was damaged.
Property damage was estimated at $1.2 million, and the horses were each thought to be worth at least $10,000, although Smith said their value was "probably much, much higher." Three sets of owners, including two local horse trainers, had been identified, officials said.
Horse racing is big business at Charles Town, which opened in 1933. It is about 70 miles from Washington, near the Maryland and Virginia borders. The racetrack operates about 220 days a year, and annual gambling revenue is usually in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Smith, who has been Charles Town's fire chief since 1974, said Monday's fire was the "worst, as far as damage, that I've ever seen."