Cause of barn fire is still unknown

Va. horse owner upset over investigation of Cecil blaze that killed thoroughbreds

January 31, 2006|By MICHAEL DRESSER | MICHAEL DRESSER,SUN REPORTER

Three months after a fire swept through a Cecil County horse barn, killing 24 thoroughbreds, investigators have not determined what caused it, a spokesman for the state fire marshal said yesterday.

The fire marshal's office sent a letter this month to a Virginia horse owner, saying the fire was under "criminal investigation," but Deputy State Fire Marshal W. Faron Taylor said yesterday that the description was a matter of "semantics." Taylor said fire investigators have no evidence that the Nov. 1 blaze at the state-owned Fair Hill Training Center was arson.

"Because we don't know the cause, we treat it as if it was a crime," Taylor said.

In the Jan. 9 letter to Dennis L. Bybee, manager of the Virginia Grass Syndicate in Alexandria, Va., fire official Charles C. Widdoes said he could release only limited information because of the criminal probe. Widdoes wrote that the case would require a lengthy investigation and noted that some inquiries have taken more than a year.

The answer was unsatisfactory to Bybee, whose syndicate's horse Virginia Bidder perished in the blaze. In an e-mail to The Sun, Bybee asked: "Is this `due diligence' or a `cover up' of their failure to accomplish any fire prevention activities at Fair Hill - a public use facility owned by the State of Maryland?"

Bybee has criticized the lack of sprinklers or fire alarms in the barn - precautions that are not required in barns under the state fire code, according to Taylor. Taylor said that when the fire marshal's office is unable to find the cause of a fire it keeps those cases open indefinitely.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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