Rita and Monique Burnett

By Lauren Duffy

The harness racing industry has rallied around Kilmore’s Mifsud family, who lost 12 horses in barn fire on Friday.

A resident at the Mifsuds’ Grand Lodge on the Lancefield-Kilmore Road at Forbes, west of Kilmore, heard what sounded like ‘popping’ noises just after 12am before going outside to investigate.

A fire took hold quickly, causing a chaotic scene for the family trying to rescue the horses. A long list of horse gear and equipment, such as veterinary supplies, rugs, leads and feed, was also destroyed in the fire.

The Mifsud family, including Rita Burnett, are well known and respected in Kilmore’s equine circles, as well as the broader harness racing industry.

Rita’s daughter Monique Burnett said the horses that died in the fire were weanlings and yearlings – the harness runners were in the paddock.

Ms Burnett said six horses were saved from the fire.

“They’re doing well. They have ash in the lungs but they are happy in the paddock now,” she said.

Ms Burnett said the family had been to the Kilmore trots on Thursday night, returning to the farm about 10.45pm.

“I had got home and was packing because I was meant to go Tasmania on Friday. It was about 12.10 and my uncle rang and he was screaming that the barn was up in flames,” she said.

“My uncle has a sleep apnoea machine and when the power was cut to the house the air stopped on his machine so he got up to have a look what was wrong.

“Then they heard two bangs and the whole front of the barn was up in flames within seconds.”

Ms Burnett said told RSN 927 radio on Saturday that her mother and uncles had ran into the barn to try to save horses.

“Everyone that was there at the scene will be traumatised for a long time. Seeing the flames, [hearing] the noises, is something that you will never, ever forget,” she said.

“Even though it’s an accident and there’s things that you can’t do, it’s the guilt that you feel because they [the horses] rely on us. We’re their carers, we’re there to look after them.”

An online fund has been set up to raise money for the family to rebuild, with donations pouring in from across Australia and New Zealand. As of yesterday, the fund had surpassed $120,000.

Ms Burnett said while the barn was insured, the cost to rebuild would not cover everything they lost in the fire.

She said the family’s immediate needs were rugs and a container to store the equipment and feed that was being donated.

“We’re hanging in there – we’ve got other horses that need to be cared for, so we’re just punching on,” she said.

“The support has been unbelievable. The love and support has been just amazing.

“When things get tough, the harness racing industry is a great industry to be in. We’re forever grateful.”

Fire brigades from Kilmore, Springfield, Wallan, Broadford and support vehicles from across the region attended the fire, which took 40 minutes to control.

Kilmore firefighter Greg Murphy said about 40 fire fighting personnel were on scene.

“We arrived to find the fire had taken hold at the front of the stables quite significantly,” he said.

“It was a tough and challenging job due to the intensity of the fire.”

Mr Murphy thanked the property owners and neighbours for their assistance.

“We were able to use water on scene at the property, in tanks and dams, which was fortunate, and able to keep the fire to within the stables,” he said.

“There was sheds and other equipment nearby which was not impacted.”

Mr Murphy said firefighters were on scene for about four hours, assisting with hotspots and helping vets to treat the horses that had escaped.

Harness Racing Victoria, HRV, officials also attended the property on Friday to offer the family support.

“This is obviously a very sad time for the participants involved and for the wider industry who care deeply for their horses,” HRV chief executive Dayle Brown said.

A fire investigator attended the scene on Friday, and determined the cause wasn’t suspicious, and most likely started by a tradie-style radio that was charging overnight.

To donate, visit www.mycause.com.au/p/288059/help-the-burnett-family-rebuild.

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