After at least 16 horses escaped a fire in a barn's stall on the grounds next to the Yavapai Downs racetrack the night of Aug. 12, it soon became apparent who was responsible for saving their lives.
At about 9:40 p.m., with the stall still ablaze, a group of grooms, stable boys and trainers released the horses trapped inside mere minutes before Central Yavapai Fire District firefighters arrived to extinguish the flames.
Thankfully, no one died. An electrical fire charred only stalls and spooked a number of horses in a barn next to the Downs' RV Park, which is located away from the restricted main barn area.
However, witnesses at the scene said some of those horses suffered injuries, including minor burns.
Central Yavapai Fire District fire safety specialist Rod Lopez said an electrical short from a mini-refrigerator improperly plugged into an overloaded extension cord inside a tack room triggered the blaze, which spread to several other stalls.
"Because the extension cord was laying on the ground in the hay, it just overheated and caught the hay on fire," Lopez said earlier this month.
Added Yavapai Downs Fair Manager Jim Grundy, "The stall in question was being used for storage and I don't believe there was even a horse in that one. A couple of the horses involved (in the fire) were racehorses, and some of them were pony horses."
The district rolled out three engines with 21 firefighters after fielding the call at 9:40. It took crews five minutes to control the blaze and 40 minutes to extinguish it in the slow-burning hay.
"Central Yavapai Fire responded so unbelievably and their quick response avoided a disaster," Grundy said. "Luckily, people were able to gather up the horses and put them in an outdoor arena that sits right next to those stalls. All the horses were accounted for."
At the time, Lopez estimated $1,500 in damage to the contents inside the stalls and as much as $2,000 to $3,000 to the metal structures.
Grundy countered, saying, "There is more damage than you think," adding fairgrounds crews might need to replace conduit and lighting.
"We are very fortunate when we built this place we elected to use metal barns instead of wood," Grundy said about the fairgrounds, which moved from the Rodeo Grounds in Prescott to a new complex in Prescott Valley off Highway 89A in 2001.
Pedro Gomez, a horse trainer from Phoenix who trained 15 horses at Yavapai Downs, told the Courier on Aug. 13 that most of the animals involved in the fire were racehorses. He estimated about 12 horses fled the stalls.
Bobbie Thibeault, an exercise rider from Phoenix who was also on the scene, said she noticed five injured horses.
She added that one fleeing racehorse may have injured its knee after running into a barbed-wire fence near the entrance to the fairgrounds, then trotted west on Highway 89A.
Gomez said he thought the racehorses might need at least three months to recover from shock before entering any races.