Officials: Blaze at Jockey Club looks accidental
State's final report not due for weeks


Published May 29. 2003 8:30AM

BY RYAN CONLEY
STAFF WRITER


IRVINE - State fire officials said Wednesday that the recent barn fire at Meadowbrook of Ocala Jockey Club was accidental, but they will close their investigation without determining a cause.

The late afternoon blaze on May 6 destroyed the $1 million stallion barn and killed five sires at the farm located on County Road 318. An investigator with the State Fire Marshal's office said the starting point of the fire was pinpointed to what is called the stallion prep room and ruled it as accidental but said there was too much damage to determine an actual cause.

"We are certain of the area, and we suspected (electrical) components, but too much associated with the components was burned away," said Mary Vanatta of the Fire Marshal's office.

Vanatta said the investigative team, which included federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms specialists, found no indication of foul play.

"We are not seeing anything suspicious," she said. "We treat every fire as a crime scene first and examine every piece of evidence, and interview every witness as such, because you can't go backwards in examining evidence."

Vanatta said officials fail to identify a cause in just a small percentage of fires. Last year's barn fire that claimed the lives of 22 thoroughbreds at Ocala Stud was also ruled as accidental without citing a cause.

An official report will not be released for at least another three weeks, Vanatta said. Officials with Meadowbrook had not received word of the fire's cause Wednesday but were glad to have a small piece of closure on the tragic event.

"I genuinely feel that everyone here is relieved to hear it was accidental. That's what was indicated to us from the beginning," said Meadowbrook office manager Carol Johnson. "Unfortunately, (the fire) was a hard pill to swallow because it was a tremendous loss, but the community has shown their support for us from day one."

The fire killed popular stallion Darn That Alarm, as well as young sires Faygo, Star of Valor, Traitor and Reality Road. A group of six passersby and a farm employee are credited with saving the lives of four other stallions before firefighters arrived.

Johnson said the LaCroix family, which has owned Meadowbrook farm since the 1960s, still hasn't decided whether to rebuild the barn.

"There have been no final decisions. They are going to take their time," she said. "But we are back to business as usual and have been since the first day after the fire."

A memorial event being organized by the Florida Thoroughbred Farm Managers is planned for Saturday, June 14, at 5 p.m. The memorial will be held at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. sales pavilion, located across the street from the Ocala International Airport on Southwest 60th Avenue.

Ryan Conley can be contacted at ryan.conley@starbanner.com.