If you were talking to a horse owner in St. John’s Tuesday morning, chances are they looked a bit bleary eyed.
According to several people interviewed by The Telegram, many horse owners in the Goulds area of the city either slept in their barns or took turns guarding those of their neighbours Monday night.
Brett Whelan, track manager at the St. John’s Racing and Entertainment Centre, said he left the track’s stables at about 3 a.m. Tuesday and there were still about 20 people sitting around talking.
“People were just driving around, barn to barn, throughout the night,” said Whelan.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever had to deal with anything like that. It was more or less people uneasy and couldn’t sleep, so they said they might as well be down there (at the stables),” he said.
The horse owners were responding to fears that their animals may have been in danger following the destruction of two barns, both containing racehorses, within the span of 13 hours Monday in Goulds.
Residents viewed the coincidence as highly suspicious, and most horse owners took extra measures to protect their animals, said Carl Ryall, whom The Telegram found cleaning out a horse stall at the racetrack Tuesday afternoon.
He’d only gotten about two hours of sleep in the past 24 hours, he said, having come off a night shift and gone right to the stables.
“You think the worst, right,” said Ryall.
One of the destroyed barns was older, he pointed out, so it is conceivable that something just sparked and caught fire, but the second barn was less than a year old.
“All of a sudden, for that to happen? It’s a little bit sick,” he said.
A fellow horse owner called him at work to tell him what had happened, he added, and he was on edge right up until his shift ended.
“I was at work last night and every time the phone rang I expected the worst. Same thing today,” he said.
According to the RNC’s preliminary investigation, the first fire, which was on Back Line, is believed to have been accidental.
The preliminary investigation into the second fire, which was on Ruby Line, had not been released to the media as of The Telegram’s deadline Tuesday night.
But the circumstances in both cases have left many horse owners suspicious.
Pam Doucette started to tear up as she petted one of her horses, Dawn.
Like Ryall, she showed up at the racetrack to check on her animals as soon as she could.
Owners with animals in the track’s stables have been talking about writing up a schedule, she said, so there is always somebody with their animals for the near future.
“It’s a worry in so many different ways I can’t even begin to tell you. The horses are devastating to lose. They’re pets. They’re important to us,” said Doucette.
Nine horses were rescued from Monday’s blaze on Back Line, which was reported at about
10 a.m., but seven horses and three goats were killed in the Ruby Line fire, which was reported at 10:35 p.m.
No people were injured in either incident.
In the morning fire, a neighbour alerted the property owners of smoke. They managed to get their animals to safety.
In the second incident, a motorist flagged down an RNC cruiser to report smoke coming from a barn on Ruby Line.
The RNC officer called 911 and then ran to the barn, which already had heavy smoke pouring out of it. Attempts to open to the doors were unsuccessful.
Unable to get into the structure, the officer ran to wake the property owners. But by the time they got back to the barn, it was engulfed in flames. The animals inside did not survive.
The RNC said Tuesday it is asking the motorist who flagged down the officer to contact them. The motorist did not stay at the scene after the officer was informed of the smoke.