The fire that killed 24 horses at Folly Farm Thursday morning was an accident and appears to have started in an electrical outlet, a Simsbury fire official said Friday.
A veterinarian determined that the 24 horses died of smoke inhalation, Fire Marshal Kevin Kowalski said. Police tape still blocked the barn on Friday.
The outlet was in a utility room in the farm’s 23,000-square-foot arena barn, which also includes the horses’ paddocks, he said. Farm staff used the outlet to plug in portable heaters, Kowalski said.
“Right now, we’re looking at an electrical receptacle in the utility room [as the cause],” he said .
The barn itself needs repairs but is not destroyed, Kowalski said. It is the farm’s largest barn.
The farm’s manager, Alison Patricelli, whose family bought the farm in 1981, said the 19 horses housed in other barns on the property were unharmed.
On Friday afternoon, sitting in the farm’s office, Patricelli said she’s heard from people across the country and abroad offering their condolences, including the owner of a California facility that lost all of his horses in wildfires earlier this month.
“It’s incredible,” Patricelli said. “People understand what we’re going through and how it’s the tragedy we all fear as horse owners. It’s been really nice that everybody’s been so supportive.”
Patricelli said she appreciates the outpouring of support but asks for patience as the staff grieves the loss of the horses and remains attentive to the 19 horses still under their watch.
Patricelli said she and farm staff will meet on Saturday to discuss a possible memorial, as well as ways the community can help.
“I certainly understand the desire for people to know what’s going on and to try and help us,” she said. “And by no means do I want to seem unappreciative of that. … Ee need to sort of look inwards before we can look outwards.”
Latha Dulipsingh of West Hartford said her family is heartbroken after losing two horses in the fire at Folly Farm.
“It was devastating,” she said, adding that she learned about the fire early Thursday morning. The entire farm, from the horses to people who worked and rode there, is “like a large family,” she said.
Her family has been going to Folly Farm for more than 13 years, where Dulipsingh’s son, Abhimanyu, and daughter, Samyukta, learned to ride. Her son had been at the farm on Wednesday.
“It was like a home away from home for us,” Dulipsingh said. “We would spend five or six days a week at the farm. It was so comfortable hanging out there.”
“They were beautiful horses. They had such personalities. They were the most sweet and loving gentle animals that you could have.”
Jacques was 20 and Molly was 11.
“There have been so many people who have gone through Folly Farm over the years,” Dulipsingh said. “So many children have been exposed to riding there and have gone on to become really good riders.”
First Selectman Eric Wellman said that, in speaking to people over the last day, everyone has a story to share about the horses or ponies, or taking their children to riding lessons.
Wellman said he has spoken to the Petricelli family and offered support. “This community has given the Patricelli family a big collective hug and as they look to rebuild we’re right there with them,” he said.
Wellman said evidence of Folly Farm’s impact on the community is evident in social media postings.
“And I think you need to look no further than their Facebook page to see how deeply it has touched generations of people in Simsbury and beyond Simsbury,” Wellman said. “This isn’t their loss, this is all of our losses.”
Tens of thousands of people have responded to the Folly Farm Facebook page, offering condolences and asking how to help. Two different GoFundMe pages have been established.
The fire is among the most deadly in the nation for horses in recent years. Last year, a barn fire in Kentucky — apparently sparked by lightning — killed 27 horses, and a 2014 fire in suburban Chicago left 32 horses dead.
It also appears to be the deadliest in Connecticut in recent memory. In 1986, 16 horses were killed and 20 people injured when a teenager set fire to a barn in Southbury.
Thursday’s fire was first reported at 6:50 a.m. Thursday. A caretaker tried to rescue the horses, but it was too late — they had already died, Kowalski said.
Firefighters knocked down most of the fire in 10-15 minutes and had it completely out within an hour, he said. The fire probably had been smoldering for hours.
“There’s no one in this community that’s really removed from this,” Wellman said. “In Simsbury, we love our farms, and even if we’re not taking riding lessons actively or going there actively, we love the fact that they’re there. They add a lot both to the character of the community and economy and I think its really like a punch in the gut when something like this happens.”