Investigators still work to find cause of Happy Valley Farms fire
A week after a large horse farm goes up in flames, killing dozens of high-priced show horses, investigators are still working to find out how the fire started.
Thirty-five horses were killed last Thursday when a barn at Happy Valley Farms in Rossville caught fire. The owner and workers say they are determined to rebuild.
Fire officials say an electrical engineer is looking at the wiring in the barn, to see if that may have played a role in sparking the massive fire. An insurance adjuster was back on the scene Friday. In the meantime, the farm owner, its workers and the community are still trying to process this huge loss.
Wreaths of flowers and messages of sympathy sit at the foot of the Happy Valley Farms sign. Thirty-five American Saddlebred horses, valued in the millions, were lost when fire destroyed their stables last week.
"I don't think anybody will figure it out," says Dr. Jerry Bancroft.
Dr. Bancroft is a veterinarian who cared for the Happy Valley horses for several decades.
"When I saw the size of the fire and everything, when I saw the film on it, I knew it was a major tragedy," says Bancroft.
At first, investigators thought a lightning strike may have sparked the fire. But the nearest strike the night of the fire was seven miles away.
Walker County Fire and Emergency Services Chief Randy Camp tells Channel 3, investigators are now focusing on copper wiring in the barn.
"This is the worst tragedy I've seen in a horse accident, especially in a barn fire," says Bancroft.
Even though Bancroft no longer works for the farm, he knows the passion that goes into breeding and caring for the prized-animals.
"Saddlebred is an elegant animal. They're kind of the king and the queen."
He says it was sad to hear how many were lost and says he is not surprised one of the trainers was only able to rescue one horse from the stables.
"The problem is, the horses will not leave the barn. No matter what you do, they're not going to leave. And if you do get them out, a lot of them will run back in," says Bancroft.
He says the devoted show-horses are very loyal.
"That's home. That's where you want to be," he says.
As for the owner of the farm, Marion 'Bit' Hutcheson, Bancroft says, "Right now, today, she's much better, she said. This is the first day I had seen her. She's much better and has improved a lot."
He says she will do her best to return the farm to its original glory.
"She's kind of decided that she's got to put one step forward, and make the other step," says Bancroft.
Just to give perspective on how expansive of an operation this was, one of the prized world champion stallions lost in the fire, 'Merchant Prince,' helped produce around 500 foals.
At this point, fire officials say there are no red flags with this fire. It is not being deemed suspicious, but just a horrible accident.