Police investigate cause of fire that gutted stables, groomers

Theory debated about fireworks

September 11, 2019 Cranberry Local News

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Tom Owens, whose wife owns Apple Hill Pet Grooming, helps keep hot spots at bay in the aftermath of the weekend blaze that tore through his wife's business as well as neighboring Willow Brook Stables. Ten fire departments for Butler and Allegheny counties battled the blaze for more than four hours Saturday night into Sunday morning.

MIDDLESEX TWP — As the fire marshal investigates the cause of a Aug. 31 blaze that destroyed Willow Brook Stables and Apple Hill Pet Grooming, speculation continues as to what or who was responsible.

Shortly after the fire, some, including Tom Owens, who owns the property, thought a block party at the nearby Weatherburn Heights housing development could have caused the fire.

Owens said the party culminated in a fireworks display around 8:30 p.m. and added the fireworks were shot in the direction of the stable.

“It seems like too much of a coincidence that they were setting off fireworks this way, and an hour later the barn's on fire,” Owens said.

Apple Hill Pet Grooming owner Christine Dunn agreed with Owens, saying Sunday she was “90 percent sure” the fireworks caused the fire.

But homeowners in the Weatherburn development believe it would have been impossible for the fireworks to have precipitated the blaze.

Mario DeFrancisco, who lives in the development, said the distance from where the pyrotechnics were shot to the barn made it unlikely that they were the cause of the fire. He said the fireworks were shot from an empty lot at the top of Weatherburn Drive.

“If that was the case, fireworks would be burning the whole country,” DeFrancisco said.

He added that the time between the last firework and the first sighting of the fire also made it seem unlikely. The fireworks ended before 9 p.m., DeFrancisco said, while Owens estimated the fire began around 10:20 p.m.

Dawn Barbacci, of Adams, and Kimberly Giannamore, of Zelienople, donate feeding buckets to Mark Tetrault, a farrier for Willow Brook Stable, in the aftermath of a fire that leveled the stable Saturday night.

“How do you explain that that has any connection?” DeFrancisco asked.

A neighbor, Lars Gustafsson, gave a shorter time frame for the fireworks — he said they began around 8:40 p.m. and lasted 10 minutes — and noted the pyrotechnics were not shot over the barn, but rather straight up into the air.

“There was no breeze at all,” Gustafsson added.

Sgt. Randy Davison of the Middlesex Township Police Department declined to comment, saying the department had no information. The department is involved in investigating the fire, according to state police, who would not comment, citing an ongoing investigation.

The devastation from the fire was extensive, impacting Willow Brook Stables, Apple Hill Pet Grooming and both businesses' customers. The two businesses were destroyed by the fire. While no person was harmed, five horses died.

“The horse was my daughter's love. It was her purpose,” Robert Marti of Mars said of his family's mare, Mac, who perished in the fire.

Heartbreak extended beyond humans, too.

“The saddest part, in addition to all of this, is how confused they (the living horses) are,” Katie Filipiak said as she readied horses to load them onto trailers. “There's no way to explain it.”

The 20 surviving horses boarded with the stable were sent to a temporary farm Willow Brook will be using in West Deer Township, Allegheny County.

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