Thirty-five show horses perished when a raging fire broke out at Happy Valley Farm at Flintstone, Ga., on Thursday evening.
The fire started in one large barn shortly before dark, then spread to another.
Randy Camp, Walker County fire chief, said, "We were told that some of the horses had raced in the Kentucky Derby. The owner, Marion "Bit" Hutcheson, was at the scene most of the night. As you can imagine, she was very distraught - knowing the horses by name."
He said the preliminary estimate of the loss ranges between $3 million and $4 million. He said, "We don't know all the values of the horses."
The fire sent flames high into the air. There was also a huge plume of smoke visible from Lookout Mountain and many other areas.
Chief Camp said the call came in around 8:40 p.m. He said a fire station is nearby and firefighters were on the scene within eight minutes. But he said the large barn where the horses were kept was already burning out of control.
He said the fire was spreading to a nearby barn connected by a hallway. The horses were trained in that area.
Chief Camp said there is a hydrant nearby, and firefighters poured 2,000 gallons to try to save the second barn, "but that didn't put a dent in it."
He said the firefighters retreated when a portion of the roof of the second barn collapsed.
Chief Camp said no one was on the property at the time. "They had put the horses in their stalls and gone home," he said.
He said the material in the barns was highly combustible, including wood, hay and shavings. Plus, the blaze was fed by fans kept in the stalls to cool down the horses.
The fire chief said the cause of the blaze is not yet known. He said Walker County investigators are probing the cause, and the State Fire Marshal's Office is helping due to the size of the loss.
The only survivor from the barn was a horse named "Merchant Heir" who rushed out of the burning building.
There were over 20 colts in a nearby pasture who also survived.
Some trainers who were called back to the scene tried to go in and save some of the valuable horses, but were beaten back by the flames and heavy smoke.
Officials said Happy Valley Farm is home to an expansive American Saddlebred show horse breeding and training operation.
Daniel Jenner, one of the farm’s horse trainers, stated that the structure was completely engulfed within 20 minutes. “We were able to get one horse out of an end stall on the back side of the barn adjacent to the indoor arena. It was too hot and smoky to get anywhere near the main barn aisle.”
Lost in the blaze were four stallions that were the backbone of the breeding operation. Included were the prolific homebred stallion, WC Merchant Prince, who won the Three Year Old Fine Harness National Futurity in 1986 and was sire of many great world's champions, including World's Grand Champion Fine Harness and World's Grand Champion Three-Gaited CH A Sweet Treat, CH Marching Orders, and CH Rejoice among many others. Also perishing were RWC I'm The Prince - sire of twice World's Grand Champion Three-Gaited CH Grande Gil. The black stallion, WC Harlem's Friendly Conversation, sire of World’s Champions Kalarama's Delightful and With A Friend, and finally a stallion son of I’m The Prince, Magical Me.
Show horses that perished included WC With A Friend, RWC So Persuasive, I Insist, as well as a number of promising prospects including two full brothers to WC Grande Gill, I’m Grande and Grande Prince; a Junior prospect by Harlem’s Friendly Conversation, I’ll Just Say, who was being readied for competition at the Kentucky State Fair World’s Championship; Such Magic, daughter of Such Sweet Memories and Little Soul, daughter of In My Soul.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation by authorities, but foul play is not suspected. The colt barn and broodmare barn were not affected by the blaze. Nearly 25 foals have been born in 2013 and they, together with almost 100 prospects and broodmares, will be the future of Happy Valley.
Ms. Hutcheson, owner, and the entire Happy Valley staff said they "would like to express their deepest appreciation for your condolences."
The Hutcheson family has long operated a farm at the site.
View from Lookout Mountain
- Photo2 by Bill Chapin