Local News

Orange County barn fire kills 13 horses

Posted April 8, 2010

— Thirteen horses died in a fire that broke out early Thursday in a barn northwest of Chapel Hill, Orange County authorities said.

A call about the fire at Foxwood Trail Farm, 2006 Marions Ford Road, was placed at 3:37 a.m., EMS workers said. The horses were dead when firefighters arrived about 10 minutes later, and the barn was a total loss, Orange Grove Fire Chief Tommy Holmes said.

"(The barn) was totally burned up. There wasn't no roof left," Holmes said.

Owners grieve after 13 horses killed in barn fire Owners grieve after 13 horses killed in barn fire

Farm owner Layton Wheeler said he was awakened by his dog barking, then ran to the window to see flames shooting from the barn.

"I thought I was having a nightmare. It's just unbelievable," said Wheeler, who lives in a house on the farm.

Nine horses were safely moved from an adjacent barn. No person was injured in the fire.

Three of the horses that died belonged to Wheeler, and 10 belonged to people who were boarding them at the farm, which has been a riding school for young girls since 1996.

The horses' owners struggled to process the news.

"She was like the best horse you could ever have," said Brooke Leadbetter, whose horse, Cricket, was killed in the fire. "She was so sweet and, I don't know, you couldn't replace her."

"I can't even think about other horses at this point or being around them," said Molly Brooks, who rescued a horse named Beau and boarded him at the stable.

"It's kind of bittersweet. You want to be with them, but then you think, 'But, no, you're not mine.' It's like losing a child," Brooks said.

The fire spread from the barn into 2½ acres of surrounding woods across the street. Fire officials said the flames in the woods were spotty and scattered, but firefighters were concerned that dry conditions and gusty winds could spread the fire.

The Orange Grove, White Cross, Carrboro, New Hope and Orange Rural fire departments battled the fire. South Orange Rescue and the North Carolina Forestry Services also responded.

The brush fire was finally brought under control at about 4 p.m. Thursday, although firefighters were monitoring the area to ensure it didn't flare up again. Marions Ford Road was reopened to traffic at about 4:30 p.m.

The Orange County Fire Marshal's Office and State Bureau of Investigation were investigating the cause of the fire. SBI agents brought a dog to check for the presence of any chemicals that could cause a fire to spread quickly, Holmes said.

Wheeler said the barn contained no straw and little sawdust, and his barn manager had turned off the lights hours earlier when closing the stables for the night.

Most of the boarders didn't have insurance on their horses. Members of the local equestrian community stopped by Foxwood Trail Farm on Thursday to see what they could do to help.

"I just couldn't believe that it happened, and I thought that it had to be a mistake, but it wasn't," horse owner Savannah Kennedy said. "It's just horrible. You can't even imagine. So, I don't know what we are going to do at this point."

"We are kind of just like a family out here," Leadbetter said. "Everyone supports each other, and we are going to help each other get through it one day at a time."


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  • seaturtlesrule Apr 8, 2010

    The smoke alarms are an excellent idea, "boozoodoo"! They could be advanced so that no one could disable them - and so that they would alarm the neighborhood and inside the stable mgr's home...much better than what we generally have now. Nothing!

    God bless the horses and the families ~~~

  • voip Apr 8, 2010

    This kind of event makes me think that building codes for dwellings that house animals should be fireproof (brick, concrete, etc). Now my house is made of wood and is very flammable, but at least we can escape on our own accord. But these confined animals connot... so why does society (and the owners) allow their animals to be at such risk? Something to think about as we evolve our society...

  • cocker_mom Apr 8, 2010

    Thoughts and prayers to the folks that lost horses in this fire. And Blaze's girl - I am glad your horse survived - you feel guilty because you are compassionate - help your friends - they are going to need it.

    I had a horse growing up and could not imagine losing him in this manner.

    I really hope this was an accident.

  • seeingthru Apr 8, 2010

    just so horrible, my thoughts are with those who lost their horses in this and of course the poor horses

  • bahamahorses Apr 8, 2010

    There are no words that express the sadness we feel today for the ones who loved and cared for these horses! They are FAMILY and our hearts go out to ALL of them....Time will heal and MEMORIES will never be forgotten! God Bless You!

  • Groovy Apr 8, 2010

    "It's like losing a child."...um, no it's really not. I feel bad for all who lost their pets.

  • Karmageddon Apr 8, 2010

    Evidently the Orange County Fire Marshal isn't as naive as some of you ... "The Orange County Fire Marshal's Office and State Bureau of Investigation are investigating the cause of the fire. SBI agents brought a dog to check for the presence of any fire accelerants".

  • ThinkChick Apr 8, 2010

    My heart goes out to these folks -- after healing, I hope they will find new hope by adopting many exceptional horses who are waiting for new homes like those rescued by

  • Desiderata Apr 8, 2010

    Axepack...this is how I type :) ..My thoughts are with the owners. There are no words to console them. I believe in prayer.I..and pray for the horses and those who loved them. You never know when some tragic event will change the course of your day.This is one that has done just that for many.Blessing to all.

  • skewlteachrmommy Apr 8, 2010

    Horses are a huge amount of work and are very rewarding with their loyalty to their owners. There would not be much in insurance claims unless the horses themselves were insured. The amounts spent on just one horse in a lifetime is astronomical: vet bills, farrier, feed, equipment, brushing daily, floating teeth, etc. With the wood, hay and grain that is stored in the barns, those items can burn very quickly once a fire breaks out. Sometimes accidents just happen people! Not everyone in the world is devious and looking to make a dollar! Very sad for those that lost their treasured pets.