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5 Horses Killed in Fire at Veterinary Hospital

Times Staff Writer

Charred remains of five horses and a gutted building cracking at its seams were all that remained Friday after a fire destroyed a veterinary hospital near Los Alamitos Race Course.

Trapped in their stalls, the horses--three thoroughbreds and two quarter horses with a total value of about $100,000-- probably died of smoke inhalation before being burned, Orange County Fire Department spokesman Joe Kerr said.

“It would have been nice if we could have saved them, but sometimes it’s not possible,” Kerr said. “It’s a darn shame. They’re somebody’s pride and joy.”

Cause Not Known

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Kerr said the fire did not appear to be caused by arson. But investigators said they did not know the cause of the fire, which originated in the southeast corner of the Equine Medical Center, 10542 Walker St., Cypress.

The fire appeared to have started next to an electrical panel, small motorized equipment and bales of hay, Kerr said.

The building was not equipped with any type of fire alarm, which could have saved the animals’ life, Kerr said.

Dr. Bart Baker, the medical center’s owner, said he was too upset Friday night to remember the horses’ names.

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Hospitalized for Surgery

“That would involve me thinking, and I can’t even do that right now,” Baker said, adding that he had yet to call most of the horses’ owners. “I’m really tired. I’m down.”

Four of the horses were in the hospital for orthopedic surgery--on either their knees or hind legs--and one was there for eye surgery, Baker said.

None was “especially well known” but “they were good horses, or they wouldn’t be operated on,” he said. One of the thoroughbreds, he said, was a dressage, or a showmanship horse.

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Also apparently dead was a cat that Baker’s employees adopted several months ago. Firefighters said they did not find remains of the cat, but Baker said he doubted that the cat could have escaped the building. The feline didn’t have a name--"We just call it Cat.”

When firefighters arrived at the burning building at around 3:20 a.m., flames already were eating through its roof, Kerr said.

As the roof caved in, at least half of its supporting beams also came down. Had too many more supporting beams collapsed, firefighters ran the risk of seeing the walls cave in also, Kerr said.

Damage to the veterinary center, equipped with an X-ray room for horses and seven stalls, amounted to about $700,000, Kerr said. One firefighter received a minor eye injury.

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The 40 firefighters who battled the fire for less than an hour saved the building’s office area, which included computers, office equipment and records, Kerr said. The fire apparently had been smoldering slowly for about two hours before the emergency call came into the station.

The adjacent office, Meat Equipment Inc., was spared because of a protective wall.

Times staff writer Steve Lowery contributed to this story.


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