Milton’s fire chief says it took an all-hands-on-deck approach to move 35 horses to safety during an overnight fire at the First Line Training Centre just outside Guelph.
The facility is located at the eastern end of Arkell Road.
As the late-night barn fire was being extinguished, other firefighters, police officers, paramedics and staff of the centre took turns entering the barn in pairs, each using a personal breathing apparatus in the choking black smoke.
One by one, the horses were led out of the barn and each apparatus was passed on to the next pair of rescuers.
It was all hands on deck, said Dave Pratt, fire chief of Milton Fire Department. Pratt was among those who entered to remove the horses.
“There was 37 horses inside. We were successful in getting 35 horses out of the barn. Two were deceased inside. Of the 35 that got out, three have since been euthanized,” said Pratt.
Five horses were sent to Guelph to be checked for smoke inhalation, said Pratt. No first responders or centre staff were injured.
The rest of the horses will be temporarily housed at either Woodbine Racetrack or Mohawk Racetrack.
The fire was called in at about 1:30 a.m. Friday. Halton Hills Fire Department was first on scene, followed by Milton Fire Department.
In total, about 50 firefighters were on scene between the two departments, said Pratt.
“Halton Fire had four trucks and 20 staff, we probably had six trucks and 30 staff,” he said.
The fire was likely started by a block heater in a front-end loader that was plugged into the exterior of the barn, said Pratt.
“We believe that was the source of ignition, that caught fire and then it entered the barn,” said Pratt.
The exterior of the building is constructed of corrugated aluminum, with wood panelling on the interior. In between those two layers was insulation, which Pratt said was the cause of much of the black smoke.
“Unfortunately when the fire gets in the building it runs up the walls and into the attic space and the insulation and wood trusses burn,” said Pratt.
Firefighters spent much of the morning Friday peeling back what was left of the interior of the barn to find hot spots.
The office of the Ontario Fire Marshal has been called to assist with the investigation and with damage estimates.
“I don’t know the value of the horses, so I can’t predict the dollar loss. The structure is probably $200,000 but I wouldn’t even be able to guess for the animals,” said Pratt.