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Chickens, Horses Die in Bassett Stable Fire

Neighbors help save two horses, but five are lost as blaze destroys the structure. Damage is estimated at $73,000. The cause is unknown.

August 29, 2003|David Pierson | Times Staff Writer

A midnight fire ripped through a stable in Bassett on Thursday, forcing the owner and neighbors to brave smoke and flames to save two horses before the blaze engulfed the structure and killed five horses and several chickens, authorities said.

The fire woke up neighbors on a rural strip of stucco homes in the 200 block of 2nd Avenue, a small swath of the unincorporated community bordering the City of Industry in the San Gabriel Valley. The flames destroyed the wood stable, which housed seven horses, sending billows of dark smoke into the night sky.

"I was sleeping, but then I heard horses screaming," said Junior Domingo, 15, who lives next door.

After being awakened by the smell, stable owner Antonio Vargas searched the house before discovering that the smoke was coming from the stable, about 100 feet away. He told his children to wait in the family truck while he and neighbors pulled two horses out, including his favorite stud, Spike. Within minutes, the fire had consumed the stable and Vargas could not return for the other animals.

"I didn't get a chance to rescue them all," said Vargas, who was nursing burns to his arm and forehead.

Fire officials estimate the blaze caused $73,000 worth of damage. Neighbors said children had been seen playing with bottle rockets earlier in the evening, though an initial investigation failed to determine what had started the fire.

"The arson investigator didn't find any evidence of combustibles," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Lt. Michael Claus. "He didn't see a bottle rocket or cigarette butt or any evidence of smoking. There weren't any electrical wires either."

Vargas, a bartender at a Hollywood hotel, has been raising horses for 15 years. The rancher said he kept them for himself and his four children to ride.

Along with many chickens, he also keeps 20 cows. Two of the five horses killed were pregnant, Vargas said.

"I have no idea who could have done this," said Vargas, teary-eyed.

Junior, whose family often breeds their animals with Vargas' animals, said the first thing he did was usher his chickens, goats and rabbits away from an aluminum fence that bordered the stable. He then sprayed his roof with a garden hose.

After firefighters cleared the site hours later, he toured the charred structure to look at the horses' remains.

"It was so sad," he said. "They looked like they were crying."

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