The deaths of over 40 racehorses in an overnight fire at a multimillion-dollar stable and training facility in Puslinch, Ont., are like losing family members, according to a trainer whose horses lived at the facility.
“These horses are part of your life, rather just a commodity that you … you go and work with every day. They’re more than that,” said Ben Wallace. “So you go and identify 44 family members. Can you imagine?”
Wallace’s comments were echoed by Jamie Millier, who owns Classy Lane Stables Training Centre, about 15 kilometres east of Cambridge, along with his wife, Barb Millier.
Jamie Millier described the fire as “devastating,” in a phone call with CP24, and said the horses were “like large family members to us.”
Firefighters struggled in harsh conditions
Local fire Chief Steven Goode, speaking to CBC News, also spoke of the devastating impact of the fire, saying it “is the highest loss that our community has faced by far. It is a great loss. Unfortunately, none of the horses could be saved.”
As he spoke, Goode stood beside the still-smouldering ruins of the large barn destroyed by flames. He said that apparently a neighbour spotted the fire, which broke out around 11 p.m. ET, and called 911.
Classy Lane is well known in Ontario’s horse-racing industry. The facility has five barns and can accommodate 222 horses.
Barb Millier, said she was unsure exactly how many horses died, but estimates it was at least 43.
About 50 firefighters from five departments, including Guelph, Hamilton and Cambridge, were called to the scene after the blaze broke out.
They arrived to find the barn fully engulfed in flames. Firefighters worked as water lines froze in –15 C conditions. With no nearby hydrants, water had to be trucked to the site — not enough to save more than 40 standardbred horses stabled in barn No. 1.
“This is a multimillion-dollar fire, the highest dollar loss that we’ve experienced in our township,” said Goode in a news conference at the scene of the fire.
Classy Lane a key employer
Horses at Classy Lane race at some of southern Ontario’s best-known tracks, including Woodbine, Mohawk and Flamboro Downs.
Classy Lane’s website has a page with an extensive list of winning horses that stabled or trained there. Goode said the facility is a key employer in the community of less than 8,000.
According to Kelly Spencer, manager of marketing and communications for Grand River Raceway in Elora, Ont., Classy Lane is one of the best training centres in Canada.
“It is as its name suggests. It is a very highly regarded facility, so it’s a real shame,” Spencer told CBC News. “It’s awful, it’s a tragedy for everyone involved.”
Located on nearly 55 hectares, the website describes Classy Lane as ‘a multimillion-dollar’ operation.
Barb Millier, visiting Florida with her husband at the time of the fire, said in a phone interview with The Canadian Press that firefighters were still on the scene Monday morning, and it was too early to speculate on the cause of the blaze.
She said her husband was trying to get a flight home as quickly as possible.
The Classy Lane website says the facility opened in 2003.
OPP officer brought me near the fire. Only shell of barn remains. pic.twitter.com/UJs539izkM
— Melanie Ferrier (@MelanieFerrier) January 5, 2016