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Tragic Fire Strikes Classy Lane Stables in Ontario

Fire Aftermath at Classy Lane StablesThe Ontario horseracing community is reeling after a fire engulfed a barn at an elite stable facility and left dozens of horses dead.

The fire at Classy Lanes Stables Training Centre in Puslinch, Ont., erupted late Monday night, and killed 43 animals inside, according to Jamie Millier, who owns the stables with his wife, Barb Millier.

Among the horses that perished was Apprentice Hanover, a five-year-old bay considered one of the finest active standardbred horses in the country, and Penji Hanover, which competed in last year’s North America Cup.

“It’s devastating,” Barb Millier said. “We have top trainers there, this is their livelihood. This is not just a business to them, they live and breathe the horses.”

The Milliers were visiting Florida when the fire broke out.

Jamie Millier arrived back in Canada on Tuesday morning to deal with the aftermath of the fire, which he said was still smouldering Tuesday afternoon. He said that the cause of the blaze wasn’t yet known, but no one was in the barn when it was sparked.

Among the horses that perished was Apprentice Hanover, a bay considered one of the finest active standardbred horses in the country.

The building, which was made of steel, had no sprinkler system, but by law it wasn’t required to, he said. According to the Milliers, Classy Lanes was up to code and last August it passed an insurance inspection.

“We’ll just have to rebuild and carry on. There (were) no human lives taken, which we can be thankful for,” Jamie said. “It’s just very unfortunate that we couldn’t get the horses out.”

Veteran trainer Ben Wallace said he had been working with 17 horses that were stabled at the barn, which is located about 20 kilometres south of Guelph, and all of them were killed.

“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.

“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 Breeders’ Cup trophies.

“I don’t have anything left,” he said.

Daniel Lagace was training seven horses that were wiped out in the fire. He said their deaths would affect everyone involved in the animals’ care, from their owners down to the trainers and grooms. He said some people “woke up today with no job” because of the incident.

“As trainers, you lost everything. You lose all your equipment, so it’s hard to know what you’re going to do next,” he said. But he added that the monetary impact of the fire paled in comparison to the pain of losing so many horses.

“The financial loss, you can build to get over. But knowing that they’re lying there, it’s heartbreaking,” he said.

Although most of the horses stabled at the barn died in the fire, according to trainer Kris Di Cenzo, two animals—Rakin It In and Kinetic King—survived because they hadn’t returned from racing at Woodbine Racetrack Monday night when the fire broke out.

Di Cenzo said he and his girlfriend Chantal Mitchell were, between them, training 12 of the horses housed at Classy Lanes. He was too devastated to answer questions about the fire.

“I don’t really have a clear head right now,” he said.

“Just a bad day, bad night. I don’t know what to say.”

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.

Local crews responded quickly, but found the barn 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 described the fire as a “multimillion-dollar” blaze that is “the highest dollar loss that we’ve experienced in our township.”

The Classy Lane website says the facility opened in 2003 and has five barns that accommodate 222 horses.

Barb Millier said the horses traditionally raced at the Mohawk, Woodbine and Flamboro Downs racetracks in southern Ontario.




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