NICHOLS – The fire that destroyed a horse stable and killed a large number of horses at Tioga Downs on Thursday morning has been determined to be an act of arson, according to the New York State Police.
Firefighters and law enforcement responded to a barn structure fire just after 6:30 a.m. on Thursday at the Nichols casino complex.
“The on-going investigation has revealed that the barn fire was set as an act of arson. This fire resulted in the death of numerous racehorses,” a press release from the New York State Police said.
State police have announced that 32-year-old Athens resident Boyd H. Fenton has been arrested and charged in connection with the arson at Tioga Downs.
Fenton has been charged with arson in the third degree, a Class C felony, as well as burglary in the third degree, criminal mischief in the second degree and assault in the second degree, all Class D felonies.
The investigation revealed that Fenton allegedly entered the barn and intentionally set a fire, causing thousands of dollars worth of damage and killing more than two dozen horses.
One person who entered the burning barn in an attempt to save horses suffered second degree burns and was transported to Robert Packer Hospital for treatment.
Fenton was arraigned before a judge on Thursday afternoon and remanded to the Tioga County Correctional Facility.
“The New York State Police would like to offer condolences to affected individuals and families that lost their beloved animals during this tragic incident,” the press release said.
The fire broke out in one of the horse stables on the Tioga Downs property at approximately 6:34 a.m. on Thursday, according to the Tioga County Emergency Services Department.
Firefighters from several local departments quickly responded to the Nichols casino to fight the blaze and had it knocked down by 7:45 a.m.
The Nichols Fire Department was in charge of the scene with Waverly-Barton providing mutual aid with a ladder and tanker. Fire departments from Tioga Center, Windham, Litchfield, Athens Borough and Athens Township also responded to the incident.
The Tioga County Emergency Services, Tioga County Fire Investigation, New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control and Bradford County Rehab Trailer also assisted the New York State Police on the scene.
Multiple firefighters who were on the scene confirmed that a large number of horses were in the barn at the time of the fire.
“We are deeply saddened by today’s tragedy. It was a loss no one could have imagined or expected. It is an active investigation so we are not able to comment any further at this time. We would like to express our sincere gratitude for all of the first responders who rushed to our aid, we have a wonderful community and we are honored to be a part of it,” Tioga Downs owner and Chairman of American Racing and Entertainment Jeff Gural said in a statement on Thursday evening.
Jason Settlemoir, who is the Vice President of Racing at Tioga Downs, posted the following statement on Facebook:
“Worst nightmare. My thoughts and prayers go out to the horses, horsemen and women at Tioga Downs. Details are coming in but are still sketchy at this time. We are working with the New York State Police who are investigating. Once we have more information we will pass it along. Pray for those affected.”
There is a Go Fund Me fundraising page up and running to help those who lost horses and belongings in the fire. As of 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 9, over $66,000 had been donated. You can donate here: Tioga Downs Horsemen (gofundme.com)