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‘Devastating news’: 12 horses die in blaze at harness racing stable

Twelve horses have died in a stable fire at the home of a prominent harness racing family, near Kilmore.

Emergency services were called to the Mifsud family’s property on the Kilmore-Lancefield Road at Forbes, about 80 kilometres north of Melbourne, after residents heard what sounded like popping noises about 12.30am Friday.

A Victoria Police spokeswoman said when those at the property, known as Grand Lodge, went outside to investigate, they found the horse stables, adjacent to the family home, alight and raised the alarm.

“A number of horses were able to be retrieved from the burning stables,” the spokeswoman said. “Sadly, it is believed 12 died in the blaze.”

“At this early stage there’s nothing to suggest the fire is suspicious however police have set up a crime scene as a fire investigator will attend the scene.”

The large Grand Lodge property is owned by industry identity Annetto Mifsud. Kilmore harness racing figure and trainer Rita Burnett, and her extended family, also operate out of the pair’s family property. Their close-knit racing family live nearby and are well-known in harness racing circles.

A CFA spokeswoman said 10 tankers were used to help extinguish the blaze, which engulfed stables measuring about 60 metres by 80 metres.

The spokeswoman said the stables were well alight when firefighters arrived, with the blaze taking more than three hours to put out. Vets were also in attendance.

“Unfortunately 12 horses died. Ambulance Victoria attended and treated four people for smoke inhalation.”

An Ambulance Victoria spokeswoman confirmed two men believed to be in their 50s, a man believed to be in his 60s, and a woman believed to be in her 50s, were assessed at the scene for smoke inhalation but did not require treatment or transport.

Harness Racing Victoria officials also went to the stables on Friday.

“This is obviously a very sad time for the participants involved and for the wider industry, which cares deeply for its horses,” Harness Racing Victoria chief executive officer Dayle Brown said.

“The HRV support team is reaching out to the participants involved to assist during this difficult time.”

Mitchell Shire Mayor Bill Chisholm said many local emergency service volunteers attended the scene. An emergency order has been issued to demolish the remaining parts of the building.

“This is devastating news. Our thoughts go out to the family, friends and those in the local harness racing industry impacted by this tragic event,” Chisholm said.

“I would like to thank our local volunteer brigades, first responders and other emergency services who attended the scene. This would no doubt have been a very confronting and difficult situation, and we are very thankful for their efforts.”

The loss of 12 horses has sent shockwaves through the tight-knit racing community with others in the industry also sharing messages of support.

“Very sad news, my heartfelt condolences go to those involved,” breeder Maree Newberry wrote online.

“Just devastating for the family who are the hardest working and nicest people in the industry,” Dwaine Rumble said.

“Such heartbreaking news now we all need to rally around this amazing family with love and support,” Tracey Purcell-Mcmahon wrote online.

Fire investigators are working to determine the exact cause of the blaze, but it is not believed to be suspicious.

The family and nearby Kilmore Racing Club were contacted for comment.

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