Barn fire kills 9 racehorses Bowling Brook training barn was Carroll landmark.

January 14, 1992|By Richard Irwin and Ross Peddicord | Richard Irwin and Ross Peddicord,Evening Sun Staff Frank D. Roylance contributed to this story.

Nine Thoroughbred racehorses were killed last night when a two-alarm fire destroyed the historic Bowling Brook training barn in western Carroll County, fire officials said.

David Nelson, chief of the Union Bridge Volunteer Fire Company, said that one of the horses was valued at $100,000.

He said the total loss, including horses, the 98-year-old octagonal wooden building and its contents, was $750,000 to $1 million.

Four horses escaped the inferno and were seen running across a pasture.

Two were injured and were taken to a veterinary hospital in Leesburg, Va., for treatment.

Nelson said a volunteer firefighter from Union Bridge suffered smoke inhalation and was treated at the scene.

Another suffered flulike symptoms while battling the fire and was relieved of duty.

Nelson said the cause of the fire, which was reported at 11:23 p.m., is being investigated by the state fire marshal's office.

Investigators were probing the ruins of a straw storage area for clues.

Deputy Chief Fire Marshal John R. Earp Jr. said that "once it got burning, there was no stopping it."

Wanda Brandenburg, who rents an apartment on the farm, spotted the fire and called 911.

"When I got out there, the whole thing was just one big orange ball," and the horses were probably already dead, Brandenburg said.

Bowling Brook's owner, developer Mark Gross, said today he was in Westminster when he learned of the fire.

"I hoped that just a section of the barn would have been burned," he said. "But when I came over the hill from Uniontown, I could see the flames, and then I could see that the whole thing was engulfed."

Shelly Stone, a trainer whose two horses, Genuine Truth and Lusty Leader, escaped the barn unhurt, said she got to the fire scene from Baltimore at 1 a.m.

"I couldn't believe it," Stone said. "They said that the whole thing was leveled in about an hour. When I got there it was still blazing, but the barn was just about three feet high."

All nine horses killed in the fire were trained by Joanne Weber Sichetti. Another Sichetti horse, In My Power, escaped and was being treated for smoke inhalation in Leesburg.

"I feel really sorry for Joanne," Gross said. "She loved those horses. Now she's out of business. She lost everything she had."

Trainer Billy Rasche also had one horse injured, Sultry Slew, which also was sent to Leesburg for smoke inhalation.

Among the dead horses were two that had raced in Baltimore, Rare Stake and Dancing Space.

Bowling Brook, first built in 1878 and rebuilt after a fire in 1892, is in the 900 block of Crouse Mill Road off Middleburg Road in Middleburg about three miles west of Union Bridge.

The 49-stall barn, with its 1/6-mile indoor galloping track, and adjoining farm were developed by trainer Wyndham Walden, a noted 19th-century horseman who died in 1905. Walden produced a record seven Preakness winners at Bowling Brook: Duke of Magenta, Saunterer, Grenada, Harold, Vanguard, Refund and Tom Ochiltree. Three of those horses also won the Belmont Stakes.

Walden's son, Robert, took over the farm and produced a Kentucky Derby winner, Manuel, in 1899.

In the 1950s, the complex was sold to the Raymond I. Richardson Foundation, which still operates the Bowling Brook Boys' Home, an institution for juvenile offenders, in the main house and outbuildings. But the horse farm was allowed to fall into disrepair, until it was purchased by Gross.

Gross placed the farm under the county's farm preservation program and spent $75,000 to $100,000 restoring it for use as a Thoroughbred training center and a bed and breakfast inn. He said the barn was "underinsured" for $200,000.

Doris Kiser, who lives near the barn, said the facility is one of the oldest of its kind on the East Coast and was a popular site year-round.

The deadly fire at Bowling Brook was the second in just over 24 hours in which race horses were killed.

Early Sunday, a fire at Far Hill in Cecil County destroyed a horse barn and killed at least three Thoroughbred horses.

The owner of that barn, Frank Kramer of Elkton, estimated the loss of the horses and barn at nearly $200,000.

The cause of the Elkton fire also remains under investigation, said Nelson.

Nelson said the fire at Bowling Brook was reported by employees who saw smoke and flames erupting from the huge, eight-sided building that housed the horses and contained a training track, stalls, tack room and offices.

Nelson said that much of the wooden barn was engulfed in flames by the time his unit and others from Taneytown, Harney, New Windsor and Frederick County arrived.

He said the barn, which measured 150 feet wide by 300 feet long, collapsed in a mass of flames and smoke less than 30 minutes after the blaze was reported.

Nelson described the scene inside the barn as "pathetic."

"When you see such beautiful animals lying dead in their stalls," he said, "it really makes you sad that such fine creatures will never race."

Nelson said there wasn't much the 70-plus firefighters could do but pour water on the rubble and wet down nearby buildings to prevent the fire from spreading.

"It really took off and we could see the flames long before we arrived on the scene," Nelson said.

He said water to battle the fire was pumped from ponds on the property and nearby Big Pipe Creek.

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