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From the WashingtonPost.com:
25 Show Horses Die in Md. Barn Fire
Summerwind Farm Specializes in Training Competition Animals
By David Snyder
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 23, 2004; Page B01
An early morning fire destroyed a Damascus horse barn yesterday, killing 25 show horses and devastating much of a farm known as a premier training ground for competition quarter horses.
A 1,000-square-foot aluminum barn at Summerwind Farm, in the 10900 block of Moxley Road in rural Damascus, was leveled. The blackened bodies of about a half-dozen horses could be seen in the charred wreckage yesterday. Others were covered by blackened timbers and twisted metal.
"They were beautiful horses," Linda McKenna, 44, of Montgomery Village, said as she stood nearby yesterday. "For this to happen is just heartbreaking."
Authorities have not determined the cause of the fire or where it started, said Pete Piringer, spokesman for the Montgomery County Division of Fire and Rescue Services. By the time firefighters arrived after 6 a.m. yesterday, the barn was engulfed in flames, Piringer said.
"It was practically burned down by the time we arrived," he said.
Officials estimated that the blaze caused as much as $500,000 in losses, including the horses. The structure included office space, two tack rooms, storage areas for sawdust and hay, and 33 stalls for horses, said Edward Kerman, attorney for Summerwind owner Robert LaPorta.
The fire was reported by a motorist who had spotted smoke in the area, Piringer said. About 90 firefighters from Montgomery, Frederick and Carroll counties responded to the fire, which was extinguished by about 7:30.
Kerman said the farm shows horses internationally and buys, sells and breeds horses. The horses killed varied in value from a few thousand dollars to more than $100,000.
"They're the top barn between Florida and Maine," said McKenna, who owns a quarter horse, Dunny, that she and her husband Tom, 52, board at Summerwind. "It just makes you sick to see this."
At the time of the fire, Dunny and about a dozen other horses were in stalls many yards from the main barn. The Summerwind compound includes a house and three barns, the largest of which was hit by the fire.
Tom McKenna, wearing a broad cowboy hat, dabbed at tears with a handkerchief as he turned away from the wreckage.
"They were beautiful horses," he said.
The area was still smoldering yesterday afternoon as LaPorta surveyed the damage along with several associates and friends.
"Fifteen years," LaPorta said, noting how long the farm has operated. "It's devastating."
Trainer Richard O'Toole walked through the debris wearing blue coveralls and heavy work gloves.
"I lost three saddles, but that's just a little deal," O'Toole said. "These horses meant a lot to these people. Most of us are in this business because we love horses, so when you look at 25 horses dead here, it affects you."
LaPorta had been in Florida at a horse show yesterday morning when an employee called to tell him about the fire. He immediately flew back to Washington.
Summerwind is known for training reining horses, which are ridden with Western-style saddles and run competitions consisting of many hairpin turns. The farm boards and trains quarter horses, which are bred to be sprinters.
Summerwind is home to more than 30 National Reining Horse Association world champions and has participated in demonstrations at the National Horse Show in New York and the International Horse Show in Washington, according to www.equine.com
, a horse enthusiast Web site.
The building that was destroyed was in a rural area of Damascus that is dotted with horse farms and expansive suburban homes on large lots.
"You put them in a stall to protect them, but at the same time that means they can't get away if they need to," McKenna said.