MOUNT FOREST, Ont. – Thirteen horses died in a barn fire in southern Ontario overnight Thursday — the second such tragedy in the province in less than two weeks.
The horses were killed after flames broke out in a barn on a private farm in Mount Forest, Ont., northwest of Guelph. The fire came just 11 days after a devastating blaze in Puslinch, Ont., in which 43 standardbred horses died.
“It just can’t happen again. It’s just too much damage, too heart-wrenching,” Mount Forest fire chief Dave Guilbault told The Canadian Press from the scene of the latest fire.
“To have two in less than two weeks’ time, I’m hoping it’s just an anomaly and it’s not something that’s going to continue. We are definitely going to get together with the Puslinch fire department and work as a team to see how we can get involved and get more fire awareness in these farming operations.”
A person who answered the telephone at the Mount Forest property early Friday said the horses who died in the barn fire were Arabian.
Guilbault said only one horse managed to escape the fire, which began at about 10 p.m. and was largely extinguished by early Friday morning, although some hot spots remained.
About 50 firefighters responded to the blaze. Some had initially tried to enter the barn to help the animals but had to retreat because the situation was too dangerous, Guilbault said.
Firefighters also had to hold back farm staff from trying to rush into the building.
“We had to control them, we had firefighters dealing with them because they wanted to go in the barn. It’s just a terrible terrible thing,” he said, adding that firefighters had to deal with a strong wind fanning the flames and cold, icy conditions through the night.
One man at the property, where the horses are both owned and boarded, was taken to hospital to be treated for minor smoke inhalation and anxiety, but has since been released, Guilbault said.
The blaze was contained to the barn, which partially collapsed, and firefighters put up a ” water curtain” to stop flames from spreading to any other buildings, Guilbault said.
Although it was too early to say what caused the fire, Guilbault said there is speculation that a tractor might have caught on fire.
The Ontario Fire Marshall’s office was heading to the scene on Friday to being its investigation.
Guilbault said he asked the office to send the same investigators who were probing the Puslinch blaze in case there might be similarities between the two fires.
He noted that barns typically don’t have sprinklers or smoke alarms — and aren’t required to — but suggested that changes may be needed.
“I’m not saying it should be sprinklers, we’re not that far yet, but just more public education and more awareness in barns and on farms,” he said. “Once we have the cause, we’ll be able to compare the cause with Puslinch and try to get some consistency on our approach for public education and prevention.”
The Jan. 4 fire at the Classy Lane Stables in Puslinch has had a devastating impact on the horse racing community in southern Ontario.
Co-owner Jamie Millier said the economic impact reached deep into the close-knit, horse-oriented community and that groomers, veterinarians, blacksmiths and other professionals in the industry would feel the effects of the deaths for months to come.
Trainer Dan Lagace, who lost seven horses he had worked with, said the fire was more than just a professional catastrophe — it was akin to losing members of a family.
The cause of that blaze remains under investigation.
— By Alan Black and Diana Mehta in Toronto