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More than 40 horses dead in barn fire near Wellington County

Last Updated Jan 5, 2016 at 7:41 pm EDT

A barn that housed more than 40 horses will have to be knocked down after a devastating fire near Wellington County.

All of the horses inside, at least 43 animals, were killed in the fire at Classy Lane Stables in Puslinch on Monday night.

“Nobody wants to have this happen. They’re all part of our family. We all work, live and breathe, horse,” Cathi Illerbrun, an instructor at Sunrise Therapeutic Riding and Learning Centre, said Tuesday morning. The Centre is located across from Classy Lane and she said the owners were real neighbours.

“They help us with waste management … they even snowplow our driveway. They’re a great supporter to us. That’s what farmers are. That’s what neighbours do.”

The community, Illerbrun said, is united by their love of horses, and will respond to this tragedy “like farmers do: everybody pitches in and helps each other out,”

The fire began around 11 p.m. The remote location posed a problem for crews, Puslinch Fire and Rescue Service chief Steven Goode said.

“There are no hydrants in the area. There was a lot of water-shuttling that was happening. Road conditions were not the best,” Goode said.

“It was also extremely cold.”

The structure was fully engulfed and five separate fire departments were called in to battle the flames. Goode said he couldn’t comment on what fire protection systems were in place.

Classy Lane is a training centre for harness racing and is home to high-end racehorses. The barn was one of five at the stables and crews were able to save the other four buildings, Goode said.

“It’s a sad occasion,” Jason Benn, chief fire prevention officer for Puslinch Fire and Rescue Service, said Tuesday morning.

“Unfortunately, all the animals perished. They are racing horses that race throughout Ontario and Canada.”

Benn said the frigid temperatures made it difficult to fight the fire. It took four hours to extinguish the flames. The owners of Classy Lane were away at the time of the fire and are expected to return to the stable later Tuesday.

Barb Millier, who owns the facility with her husband Jamie, says she is unsure of the exact number of horses that were lost, but estimates at least 43 of the animals perished. Millier, who is visiting Florida and spoke to The Canadian Press by phone, said firefighters were still on the scene and that it was too early to speculate on the cause of the blaze.

She said her husband was trying to get a flight home as soon as possible.

Millier said all of the horses are standardbreds owned by trainers who race them at the Mohawk, Woodbine and Flamboro Downs racetracks in southern Ontario.

The Classy Lane website says the facility opened in 2003 and has five barns that accommodate 222 horses.

The cost of the damage is estimated to be between $4 and $6 million. The Ontario Fire Marshal’s office is investigating. The fire is not considered suspicious at this time.

With files from The Canadian Press

Correction: An earlier version of this article said damages were estimated at $100 million.