By Ricardo Lopez, Los Angeles Times –
With snow on the ground and the temperature hovering around 20 degrees, Art Hahn made sure every door in the New Jersey barn where he kept 22 trophy show horses was closed securely before he headed home Friday afternoon.
“Everything was locked up so the horses would stay a little warmer,” Hahn said.
But shortly before 2 a.m. Saturday, Hahn awoke to a neighbor pounding on his door. He looked across the street at the barn: It was engulfed in flames.
Fire and police officials were quickly dispatched to the 40-acre farm in Lafayette Township, but it was too late. All 22 horses inside died.
Hahn said one of them was Mr. Hollywood, a black 4-year-old stallion that was being trained to compete in Western reining competitions, in which riders guide horses through elaborate and precise patterns of circles, spins and stops.
Hahn, 77, and his wife, Betty, have raised horses for more than half their lives, and “he was my last hurrah,” Art Hahn said.
The trophy horses, valued between $10,000 and $60,000 each, had competed and won in shows on the Eastern Seaboard, he added.
Fire investigators are working to determine the cause of the fire, New Jersey state police said. But Hahn said investigators told him it appeared to be electrical.
“I’m still in shock,” he said. “This is just devastating.”
The Hahns’ farm, Heritage Acres, was established in 1979. Located about 50 miles northwest of New York City, the farm has attracted horse enthusiasts from all over the county.
The barn contained an indoor riding ring that was used year-round, Hahn said. On Saturday, all that remained amid the snow-covered grounds were a few wooden beams.
It “burned right down to the ground,” Hahn said. “Put me right out of business.”
He and his wife plan to sell the property: “We’re going to retire. I’m 77 at this point — it’s too old to start over.”