40 horses perish in barn blaze
VERNDALE -- In the pre-dawn blackness of a stormy December Sunday, the Verndale Fire Department received a call around 6 a.m. that a fire had broken out at the Central Minnesota Arena and Event Center on the northwest edge of Verndale, a business also known as R&J Horse Sales.
One of the Verndale firemen answering the call was Ryan Sundby. The call had special significance for him. Ryan is the son of Ron and Judy Sundby and one of the co-owners of Sundby Enterprises, the business that was on fire.
"We don't know what caused it," Ryan Sundby said. "We have investigators that are going to be coming in."
Sheltered in a stall barn adjacent to the 30,000 square foot main arena were 40 show horses, all of which perished in the fire. The horses were sheltered in the stall barn because a team horse show was scheduled for Sunday.
The Sundbys have operated their business for 16 years in Verndale. They have been in business for 25 years.
"It's been more than bad," Ron said. "We feel very bad about the horses."
The fire also burned the office where the Sundbys had their computers, files, accounts receivable and titles to the horse trailers they sell on the premises, according to Wadena County Sheriff Mike Carr.
Carr said the business is host to events such as horse sales and rodeos about 46 of the 52 weeks every year. He said the fire will have an impact on the whole community of Verndale.
"It affects the town and the community as a whole," he said.
With a strong northwest wind blowing and a great cloud of smoke obscuring the facilities, firefighting efforts were difficult and before the end of the day four area departments -- Wadena, Sebeka, Hewitt and Staples -- had joined Verndale firefighters on the scene. Firefighters fought the smoke and flames for 10 hours.
Carr said the conditions were tough with the sub-zero temperatures, which kept freezing the water mist on their equipment and clothing.
"You look like a popsicle after a while," Carr said.
The horses belonged to people from all over the state and were scheduled to be taken home Sunday evening.