Pedigrees on Fire

The Five-Cross Files is back from a lengthy sabbatical. I promise many fun and informative posts will again steal your attention for a few minutes a couple of times each week -- but I wanted to start out with something considerably more serious.

As you've probably read, 27 horses were killed in a barn fire Labor Day morning at a property adjacent to the Charles Town racetrack in West Virginia.  Details are still forthcoming, but it appears that most or all of the horses stabled in the three burned barns were Thoroughbred runners.

As pedigree enthusiasts, we all love to study bloodlines and to espouse our own breeding theories... we examine conformation, we watch race video... we expend sweat and tears on top of hard-earned dollars--all to enjoy the thrill that horses bring to us as they thunder around the track, running faster than they ever would in nature, at man's bidding.  We worry about breakdowns and colic and quarter cracks, we safeguard against airborne diseases and parasites--but unforeseen tragedy occasionally will strike, as it did yesterday morning.

Our responsibility as guardians of horses is to ensure their safety to the best of our ability. What happened in West Virginia appears to have been a terrible accident. Once the investigation concludes, let's hope we learn from it lessons that will help us avoid future barn fires.

I would like to point you to an important article that offers some basic tips to avoid barn fires. The Topic No One Wants to Talk About is an older post on one of my favorite equine blogs -- fair warning: this forum is not for the faint of heart! -- and was rerun yesterday following the news from West Virginia.  Read it.  Ask yourself how well your barn complies.  Take action where necessary.

Later this week, we'll get back to pedigrees. For now, you have an important assignment.


Leave a Comment:


A very sad and tragic story at that barn at Charles Town.  Was it preventable?  Maybe the investigation will tell us, maybe not.

One of my pet peeves on this topic (which does not appear related to the Charles Town fire) is when people are smoking in the barn area.  That is entirely preventable, and anyone smoking around any barn should, in my opinion, be immediately fired.  (Or told to leave if they are a visitor.)  It also occurred to me that smoking, beyond the obvious danger of causing a fire, would not seem to be a conducive environment for athletes-in-training.  Secondhand smoke is bad for humans.  It seems reasonable that it would also be bad for horses and their breathing.

07 Sep 2010 2:27 PM
Pedigree Shelly

      This is a heartbreaking tragic event, that probably could have been prevented ! I agree with Four Cats about smoking ! There should be a designated place for that ! No Smoking anywhere near a barn !!! What about doing away with wooden barns ??

    On a happier note , I'ts good to see The Five Cross Files back :)

07 Sep 2010 6:53 PM
Robin from Maryland

Such a sad and preventable accident. I totally agree that smoking in or near any barn should never be tolerated.  Just can't imagine what those poor horses last few minutes were like - it sends shivers down my spine.  If it was caused by some faulty electrical equipment than may this serve notice to all to inspect and replace any piece not up to standards.  RIP to all.

07 Sep 2010 8:51 PM


08 Sep 2010 4:44 AM
RockHardTen Groupie

Shouldn't it be standard to install sprinkler systems at tracks?  I would assume the $$ would be worth it compared to the loss of horse flesh in a fire.  So very sad.  I am an ex-smoker and NEVER...EVER smoked around the barn.  I think common sense and proffessional horsemen should take over on that issue. No one who has been around the barn should have a problem with putting down the smokes while workin in the stable.  A failure to comply is just dangerous.  

  • Scot's reply: More barn owners should look into sprinkler systems.  They often won't save a wooden barn itself, but they'll buy enough extra time to clear out the horses and possibly have a fire department arrive in time to be more effective.  I should point out that the West Virginia barns in this tragedy were adjacent to -- but not part of -- the racetrack grounds.  Charles Town has opened one of its barns to the surviving horses and is in every way being a good neighbor.
08 Sep 2010 7:44 AM
Big shooter

I lost one horse in fire. I will never get over this.The way people started saying it was a accident before the smoke cleared,the bull dozing of the scene and evidece right away.They found signs of accelerant.When it all sorts itself Im sure it will be at the hands of a human,rather then God

08 Sep 2010 9:19 AM

The design of building the barns is skewed.  The stalls should be one common wall in the middle and the doors on the outside, leading right into a paddock.  Then when fire hits the horses could be let out by running by and knocking the doors open.  Sprinklers should be manditory in this day and age.  At least a water tank and sprinklers to start to spray until the fire fighters show up.  Dumb!

08 Sep 2010 9:31 AM

It was a terrible tragedy.  But we should keep in mind that 20 horses were saved.  It's my understanding that horses in a barn on fire will panic, and try to back up from the flames, in which case, each horse must be led out individually.  That's a big job.  I'm grateful to the folks who risked their lives to save those 20.  To think, however, that the others might have been saved also had an effective sprinkler system been installed is tragic.

08 Sep 2010 10:03 AM

To all horse owners affected by this horrible event, please accept my condolences on your losses. Sadly, with the exception of possible arson, and even with the cause not yet determined, I believe this barn fire was 100% preventable. There are preventive measures for keeping barns safe from fire, and yes, the first is the installation of sprinkler systems. For more information visit This tragedy should spur all horse owners to examine their barns for possible hazards and correct them ASAP.  

08 Sep 2010 10:16 AM
Ken e

Interested in the results of the investigation. Last time I was there was in 2008 and it was pretty much like visiting a shanty town. Barns were in sad shape and way too close together. Purse money is quite generous at that track and there is no reason for conditions like that to exist. Wonder if any inspections are ever conducted to see if the structures are up to code and safe for housing horses. These structures are privately owned and they charge quite a bit to stable there. Tragic to lose horses that way.

08 Sep 2010 1:44 PM
Sweet Demon

In 1983, my family and I visited a then-major stud farm in Kentucky.  I was horrified to see an employee carry a lit cigarette into the straw storage room.  I was even more shocked when another employee set down a lighted cigarette on the asphalt pavement just outside the stall of Caro, whose name is seen so often in pedigrees of modern stakes winners.  The burning end of the cigarette was about an inch away from the nearest straw.  Thankfully, the horse did not happen to kick some straw near or over it as he moved about the stall.

There were two famous Triple Crown winners living in that barn at the time, and many other fine stallions which are a presence in modern stakes winners' bloodlines.  I could not believe the carelessness of those employees, or the absence of any manager who might have taken disciplinary action.  If either of those smokers were an employee of mine, he would have been fired on the spot.

09 Sep 2010 2:37 AM

Teach your horses to lead from both sides and with a blindfold

09 Sep 2010 4:05 PM

Back in the 70's there was a barn fire at the old El Comandante Racetrack in Puerto Rico (I believe there was a strike at the time so there was a suspicion of sabotage). Among the dead horses I think there were a couple of stakes winners.

Anyhow, years down the road I was told that some of these horses were actually led out of the stalls but that they were so scared of the noise and commotion that some went back to their stalls where they obviously died. Is this possible? Have any of you heard anything like this before?


10 Sep 2010 8:42 PM

Recent Posts


  • Pedigree Newsletter:
    The Five-Cross Files will be featured in a new Pedigree Analysis newsletter from To sign up for this free weekly email -- or any other newsletters from The Blood-Horse -- just click here.

Recommended Reading

More Blogs