Twenty-two horses perished when fire swept a wooden barn at Waterford Park Race Track early this morning. Damage was estimated at $90,000.
Some 60 volunteer firemen from four departments fought the flames, which originated in a tack room area, according to Newell Fire Chief Earl Flesch.
Track officials said $50,000 damage was caused to the barn area with the loss to the horse owners placed at some $40,000.
Flesch said the cause of the fire, which broke out about 2:45, is undetermined, but the possibility of an overloaded circuit in the tack room area is being investigated.
Three other horses were burned badly and may have to be destroyed. Twenty horses were found under the mass of debris early this morning, while two others were burned so badly they had to be destroyed immediately, Flesch said.
Twenty-four other horses were saved thought the efforts of two trackmen, James Miller and James Wilson, who were sleeping in the tackroom at the time.
They ran along one side of the barn which houses 24 horses and opened the stalls to free the animals. Almost all the horses on the other side were killed.
The horses which were turned loose ran wild for a time on the grounds, with the majority being found on the golf course adjacent to the track. Most of the loose horses were rounded up and returned to their stalls this morning.
Most seriously hit in the blaze was the stable of Harry Montgomery Jr. of Sesser, Ill. Montgomery lost 10 horses and a pony. Flesch reported that Joseph Cesarini lost six horses and Eric Pogue lost five.
Horses lost by Montgomery, which usually ran in $1,500-$2,000 claiming races, included Blackie's Shadow, Blackie F., Lovely Burnetto, Battle Son, Red Hellion, Ada Boy, Mat Fast, Cherokee Maid, Texas Thrush, and Sco-Plex.
The names of Cesarini's and Pogue's horses were not available this morning.
Firemen from Newell, Chester, Lawrenceville and New Cumberland were on the scene, with Newell volunteers remaining until late this morning.
The barn, with 48 stalls, 12 tack rooms and eight feed sheds, was a total loss. Flesch said the fire had a good start by the time his men got there.
Track sources said tonight's program is expected to be run as scheduled.
The last fire to hit the barn area at Waterford Park was in 1952 when a man was killed and 12 horses perished in a blaze which destroyed almost 40 per cent of the stable area.
Fire also destroyed the clubhouse at the park in 1963.
A major disaster was averted by the quick action of the fire departments from nearby New Cumberland, Newell, Chester, Lawrenceville and the track's own fire detail.
"The fire departments volunteers did a tremendous job," track president James F. Edwards said.
"I can't begin to say enough about the jobs that these volunteers performed this morning. Because of their quick action and combined efforts, we were able to get the fire out in near record time.
"These men worked under the most adverse conditions, and what a job they did.
"The temperature was below freezing when the fire broke out and there was a bitterly cold snowstorm blowing at the time."