ON WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 1964, a Three-alarm fire burned down a wooden barn and damaged two others at the Laurel Race Course located just north of Route #198 near Brock Bridge Road in the Maryland City section of Laurel, Anne Arundel County, MD.

(Photo - John Floyd II)

Thirty-four* top-ranked horses worth over $250,000 were destroyed. Stable hands discovered the fire in Barn 21 at around 9:30 P.M. Barn 21 was one of the many 250 feet long one-story wooden stables each containing stalls for up to 60 horses. The fire was first noticed in a “feed room” where bails of hay were being stored. Approximately 50-55 horses were in the barn at the time of the fire. Grover "Buddy" Delp, Churchville, MD lost 30 of 32 horses.

(Laurel’s Engine 104, ’62 ALF 900 pumper and Truck 10, ’54 ALF 700 85’ quintuple combination - Photo - John Floyd II)

Over a dozen fire companies with over 200 firefighters responded from Anne Arundel, Prince Georges, Howard, and Montgomery counties. Dozens of horses released from nearby stables were running around the grounds in a panic as jockeys, stable boys and firefighters tried to round them up. Many horses pulled from the fire building by stable boys would “rear and run back in."

Earl Shipley, Assistant Chief of Company #29 (Jessup) was in charge. This fire occurred four years before the establishment of Company #27 (Maryland City) and at the time, the Maryland City community was #29’s first due response area.

(Investigator Earl Shipley, left. District Captain Pete Spadola, right. Both checking out the after effects of a storage room fire at Annapolis Jr. H.S., May 1972. Photo - AACo.FD)

Shipley was also an Anne Arundel County FD (AACo.FD) Engineman. He would later become the Jessup VFD’s chief and transfer to AACoFD Fire Investigation Bureau (FIB) as a fire investigator before his retirement from the county in the early ‘70s. Later he became a fire inspector for the many State office buildings located in Annapolis during the 1970s and 1980s.

Shipley said at the time that the cause of the race track fire was undetermined, however, a gas stove was found in the barn destroyed by the fire.

(Jessup's Engine 292, a 1951 Ward La France, 750 gpm with a 400 gal. water tank. The Race Track located in Anne Arundel County was Jessup's first due, however Engne 292  probably arrived third due since the Laurel and Savage VFD's were much closer - Photo - Joseph MacDonald)

I remember listening to stories from veteran firefighters of Company #32 (Linthicum) that responded that night. They said the engine had to slow down a number of times to avoid hitting herds of horses galloping in all directions on Route 198 and Brockbridge Road.

(Photo -  Judith Ann George

(Photo -  Judith Ann George

Chief Frank W. Burgess of the AACoFD Fire Prevention Bureau would state that the fire could have been caused by carelessness or arson and later it was officially labeled as carelessness from a cigarette. The barn was worth $60,000. One stable hand was transported to PG County General Hospital with a cut hand as he tried to rescue a horse.

(Photo -  Judith Ann George

Less than three-years later a one-alarm fire occurred at another Laurel Race Course barn on the night of March 27, 1967. This fire discovered around 9 P.M. killed four horses (two from the fire and two needed to be put down due to burns). Horses pulled from the flames again (as in ’64) ran back into the stables and were consumed by the flames.

Twenty firefighters that responded from Anne Arundel, Prince Georges and Howard counties put out the fire. The article stated that the track experienced fires in ‘41, ‘46 and ‘58, but the fires in ’64 and ’67 were the only fires where horses were lost.

I don’t know if the 1967 fire accelerated the organization of Company #27 (Maryland City VFD) or not, but the company would go into service within a year in the old barn-like-metal building located on Brock Bridge Road across from the race track barns. Company #29 donated Engine 292 (Ward La France) for the new volunteer organization.

(Photo - John Floyd II)

When Company #27 opened for operations circa March 1968 A.A.Co.FD’s pump operators assigned were Gilbert Dicus, Andy Clopein and Harold Geis.

Donald L Merkle, Clopien’s friend, and volunteer colleague at Company #12 (Earleigh Hgts) would later comment that he would often ride and stay overnight at the station with Andy. Merkle said that Andy believed that the old building was "haunted" and didn't want to be alone. Merkle would retire from A.A.Co.FD as a lieutenant (EMS Training) in the late ‘70s to take a position as fire and medical instructor with the Maritime Institute in Linthicum.

By the early 1970s, all of Laurel Race Course's wooden stables were protected by automatic (dry) sprinkler systems and the new replacement barns were constructed of concrete block, with horizontal fire separation walls and sliding metal fire doors. Because of the non-combustible construction, the new barns were not sprinkled.

When I was assigned to the Fire Prevention Bureau, I had the experience of conducting fire inspections at the Race Course in ’76, and ‘81 thru ‘84 and typically found everything to be in good order.

In all of my years working as Battalion #4, 1988 – 1989 and 1994 – 1996, I don’t ever recall responding to a fire at the track.

*There were a number of conflicting accounts of horses lost in the ’64 fire. One paper stated as many as 37 while another said that 28 had perished.

I want to thank the late Johnny "Boy" Floyd II, Judith Ann George, Chuck Morris Jr. and Joseph MacDonald for they're assistance with this article.  

John Floyd II also contributed the fire photos of the barn and one showing PGCo. Laurel’s Engine 104 (’62 ALF 900 pumper) and Truck 10 (’54 ALF 700 85’ quintuple combination)I would like to thank John Floyd II and Chuck Morris Jr. for their contributions to this post.


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