Fire at Rideau Carleton Raceway brings ‘devastating’ casualties weeks before season
Rideau Carleton Raceway Casino staff are in a new breed of race – one against time – after a double alarm fire ripped through the paddock on Wednesday night.
The loss comes just weeks before the start of the racing season, which is set to begin on March 19.
“It looked as if the fire had broken out here in the rear part of the paddock and the flames were seeping out from there,” said race director Peter Andrusek.
“It seemed like when the fire broke out in the back of the paddock, it just crept along the center beam.”
Charred walls and blackened debris remain behind him.
According to the Ottawa Fire Department, they responded to reports of the fire around 7:30 p.m. No animals or people were injured in the fire.
General Manager Helen MacMillan said the flames could be seen bursting out from the roof and firefighters used an excavator to demolish part of the structure.
She called the paddock where horses were held before their runs “the heart of the race.”
“We’re thinking about finding a temporary paddock,” she said.
“Of course we need all sorts of permits for this, but we want to do everything we can to ensure that the racing season continues.”
She said they are still assessing the damage and its cost and are waiting to learn more about what caused the fire.
But despite the blackened debris in front of her, racecourse staff are glad only infrastructure and equipment were lost. About 80 horses were at the racecourse on Wednesday.
However, the paddock is only used during the racing season.
“Just very thankful no one got hurt. Nobody was injured. There were no horses,” MacMillan said.
The loss is particularly devastating, Andrusek said, after the blow the industry has suffered during the pandemic.
“I’ve been here for 30 years and I mean this industry has weathered a lot of crises. And I have to tell you, this is the most devastating,” he said.
“You just feel so utterly helpless.”
But Andrusek called those who work with and around horses a “resilient bunch”.
“We will find a way to continue our racing program because it is imperative for them,” he said.
“They have made huge investments in their horses and to keep this business going they have to race.”