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7:41 PM Tue, Nov. 13th

Fire damages stalls at fairgrounds, sidelines some horses from racing

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Eight-year-old Bailey Thibeault looks at the small refrigerator that apparently caused a fire in a stall of a barn at Yavapai Downs on Tuesday night. Thibeault, who was on scene when the fire was being put out, said the scariest part for him was when a running horse tried to stop and flipped over a gate.  He added that he thought the horse was OK.

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier Eight-year-old Bailey Thibeault looks at the small refrigerator that apparently caused a fire in a stall of a barn at Yavapai Downs on Tuesday night. Thibeault, who was on scene when the fire was being put out, said the scariest part for him was when a running horse tried to stop and flipped over a gate. He added that he thought the horse was OK.

PRESCOTT VALLEY - An electrical fire burned several barn stalls and spooked a number of horses Tuesday evening at the Yavapai County Fairgrounds.

Several horses trotted away after people opened stalls that housed about 16 horses, and some horses sustained injuries, witnesses on the scene said Wednesday morning.

Pedro Gomez, a horse trainer from Phoenix, speculated that the racehorses may need at least three months to recover from shock before entering any races. Yavapai Downs races resume Saturday and continue through the Labor Day holiday.

Gomez pointed out fire damage inside metal stalls that included burned hay, bridles, saddles and oats, while acknowledging no horses were inside the stalls when the fire broke out.

An electrical short from a refrigerator inside one stall apparently triggered the fire that spread to several other stalls, fire safety specialist Rod Lopez of the Central Yavapai Fire District said. The district rolled out three engines with 21 firefighters after fielding a call at 9:40 p.m., and took five minutes to control the fire and 40 minutes to extinguish it in the slow-burning hay.

Lopez estimated damage at $1,500 to the contents within the stalls and possibly $2,000 to $3,000 to the metal structures.

However, Fair Manager Jim Grundy said, "There is more damage than you think," adding fairgrounds crews may need to replace conduit and lighting.

He said an insurance adjuster will inspect the damage, possibly as soon as next week.

"We are very fortunate when we built this place we elected to use metal barns," Grundy said about the fairgrounds, which moved from the Rodeo Grounds in Prescott to off Highway 89A in Prescott Valley in 2001. If the stalls had been wood, "there would have been a strong possibility that more horses would have been burned."

Grundy said, "There won't be any disruption (to the Yavapai Downs races) because a lot of those horses were not necessarily racehorses."

However, Gomez, who is training 15 horses on the premises, said most of the horses are racehorses. He added about 12 horses fled after people opened

the stalls to release them.

Asked whether he thinks the horses can race this weekend, he said, "I don't think so. Too scared."

Grundy disputed his comment about it taking three months for racehorses to recover from the shock of the fire, saying, "That is somebody's speculation."

Gomez acquaintance Bobbie Thibeault, an exercise rider from Phoenix who was also on scene, said she noticed five horses with injuries. One racehorse that fled might have injured its knee after running into a barbed-wire fence near the entrance to the fairgrounds, then trotted west on Highway 89A, she said.

The injury might end the horse's racing career, Thibeault speculated.

Other injuries include scrapes, bruises and burns to their backs, Thibeault and her husband, horse trainer Dickie Martinez, said. The couple said they expected a veterinarian to examine the horses later on Wednesday.

"Our living is earned by our horses," Martinez said. "We have eight (horses) with us, but there was only four involved in the fire."

Martinez and Thibeault's 12-year-old son, Beau, said they chased after the horses after they fled from the barn area.

"I chased some horses," Beau said. "Some went to the grandstand. We used halters and shanks."

Contact the reporter at khedler@prescottaz.com