On Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023, at approximately 6:34 a.m., the Tioga County Dispatch Center received a call for a possible fire at a barn located at Tioga Downs Casino, a fire that would have a tragic ending for the horsemen and women at the track and for the horses, as the loss has now been reported by Tioga County’s Emergency Management team as extensive.
Flames could be seen by commuters along the I-86 / Route 17 corridor located near the Nichols exit, and the West River Road Casino in the early morning on Thursday. With harness racing taking place at the track throughout the summer, and then training in the fall, it was confirmed by mid-morning that there were an unknown number of horses housed in the barns, and that it was unknown if they were able to get out. We learned later that an undisclosed number of horses perished in the fire.
The Nichols Fire Department was first dispatched to the incident. Upon arrival of the first units, heavy fire was located within one of the horse barns and as multiple agencies began to arrive on the scene.
Later in the day, however, and as the fire and investigation continued, the State Police reported that a suspect had been taken into custody, and that the fire investigation determined the blaze was “set as an act of arson.” The fire, they continued, resulted in the death of numerous horses.
According to harnesslink.net, the five trainers who were stabled in Barn F lost all of their horses and racing equipment in the fire. It was also reported that another trainer suffered facial and arm burns. These are the only reported losses we were able to confirm at this point.
Arrested was Boyd H. Fenton, age 32 of Athens, Pa., who was charged with Arson in the third degree, a Class C felony; Burglary in the third degree, a Class D felony; Criminal Mischief in the second, a class D felony; and Assault in the second degree, a class D felony.
According to officials, the investigation revealed that Fenton entered the barn and intentionally set a fire, causing thousands of dollars’ worth of damage. Fenton was arraigned before a judge Thursday afternoon and remanded to the Tioga County Correctional Facility.
Upon word of the news, Jeff Gural, chairman, American Racing and Entertainment and owner of Tioga Downs, stated, “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.”
Others went immediately into action, creating a GoFundMe at https://gofund.me/812d535c to lend some much needed help to those that suffered from this incredible loss.
PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Gullermo sent in a statement as well regarding the fire Thursday morning at Tioga Downs, and upon learning that it was intentional, writing, “The despicable individual who allegedly set fire to a barn at Tioga Downs harness track, killing multiple horses, must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. PETA calls for cruelty-to-animals charges to be included and thanks the New York State Police for swiftly apprehending a suspect. We don’t know what would motivate anyone to do something so awful except insurance fraud or pure malice. The suffering of horses who were burned alive is almost unimaginable, and these animals, as the victims, must be considered in any prosecution.”
The Nichols Fire Department was assisted by multiple mutual aid agencies including the Tioga Center Fire Department, Waverly-Barton Fire Department and Pennsylvania Fire Departments to include Wyndham Township, Athens Fire and Athens Borough Fire, Greater Valley EMS, and the Bradford County Rehab trailer. Others that responded and assisted include Tioga County Emergency Services, Tioga County Fire Investigation, the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control, and the New York State Police.
The investigation is continuing.