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FIRE

Otterville barn fire claims nine horses at Darkin Riding Stables

By Megan Stacey, The London Free Press

The only remains of a barn south of Otterville that was destroyed in a fire early Saturday morning. All nine horses in the barn died. An online fundraiser has been set up to help the owner of Darkin Riding Stables rebuild. (MEGAN STACEY/Sentinel-Review)

The only remains of a barn south of Otterville that was destroyed in a fire early Saturday morning. All nine horses in the barn died. An online fundraiser has been set up to help the owner of Darkin Riding Stables rebuild. (MEGAN STACEY/Sentinel-Review)

Darlene Kinnear is starting the slow process of rebuilding her life’s work.

The owner of Darkin Riding Stables saw her dream go up in the flames early Saturday morning when a fire whipped through her Otterville barn, claiming the lives of all nine horses inside.

It’s the most recent barn fire in a string of blazes across southern Ontario this winter, including a massive fire in Puslinch that killed more than 40 racehorses at the beginning of 2016.

“We had just moved there in January. My original stable started here in Straffordville where I live. It had been going so well that I needed to get some more horses, and I needed a different place to have them,” Kinnear said on Monday.

All those horses were specially selected for the young and vulnerable riders that frequented Darkin Riding Stables, including kids with autism and clients from the St. Thomas Elgin Mental Health Association, Kinnear said.

“It took a long time for me to find the right horses,” she said. “We went through a lot of horses to build up the team that we finally had, we could see the future was going to be bright. It’s unfortunate that it’s all gone now.”

The director of protective services in Norwich Township said the entire barn was destroyed in the fire.

“We were on the scene about five hours,” said Paul Groeneveld.

He pegged the damages somewhere between $100,000 and $150,000.

It took firefighters from Norwich, Southwest Oxford, Otterville and Burgessville to knock down the flames.

Kinnear was upset about the arrival time of fire crews.

“It was four in the morning was when the gentleman who lives there woke up to go to the washroom, and that’s when he noticed the fire. It was raging at that point, so he called the fire department, which took 45 minutes to respond,” she said.

Groeneveld said fire crews were paged at 4:54 a.m. and arrived on the scene at 5:09 a.m.

The destruction of the barn also made it difficult to figure out what caused the blaze.

“It was damaged pretty extensively and we were unable to determine the exact cause,” Groeneveld said.

Kinnear said she believes an electrical lamp inside the barn started the fire.

A GoFundMe campaign (www.gofundme.com/s4rkuhzw) has been set up to help her rebuild. Those who want to donate directly can e-mail darkinridingstables@hotmail.com.

“It’s not enough to have lost nine members in my family, I don’t even have the money to replace them or clean their bodies and put them to rest,” Kinnear said.

When Darkin Riding Stables first arrived at the Otterville location, Kinnear didn’t take out an insurance policy, because the property owner already had replacement policies on the barn, she said.

“But last month we decided it was important for us to have our own personal insurance. My landlords had waived my rent for the next two months so I could get my insurance in place. It was to start March 1, and then this happened,” she said.

Luckily, three horses that were boarded in another barn on the property survived the fire. But all of Kinnear’s equipment was destroyed in the fire.

“I need tack, because every saddle, bridle, blanket – anything I had – was there. If anyone has any used tack they would like to donate, or money, or horse feed, anything, it would be very helpful,” she said.

She will operate from her home in Straffordville for the time being.

Kinnear is also thinking of the dedicated riders who will be affected by the fire.

“Many kids had their own special horse there,” Kinnear added. “It’s been very devastating for a lot of people.”

mstacey@postmedia.com