WANATAH — A structure housing nearly 2,000 racing pigeons from around the world burned to the ground late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, incinerating all the birds and prematurely ending the 2019 Hoosier Classic Million Dollar One Loft Race.
Hoosier Loft owners and race organizers Jim and Kelly Ward, of Wanatah, said their family is "completely devastated" by the fire that also killed four of their dogs, according to friends of the family.
"Our family has spent hundreds of hours working in this loft and it has become our life," the Wards said on the race website. "We are thankful that our children are safe, but we are devastated at the loss of something that we lived to do on a daily basis."
Records show the destroyed loft, which was housing all the pigeons for Monday's final race from Matthews, Missouri, back to Wanatah — one of the premier events in competitive pigeon racing worldwide — was 280 feet long, 16 feet wide and capable of accommodating up to 7,500 birds.
Adam Dunn, administrator of the South Africa pigeon racing website PigeonUniverse, said Sunday following the fire that it was the "greatest modern-day pigeon disaster."
Pigeon breeder and flyer Fred Smeltzer, owner of the iPigeon auction website, agreed: "This is a bad time for our pigeon sport."
"We all need to stick together and pray and support Jim Ward's family. With everyone's support maybe we all can make it through this crisis," Smeltzer said.
The cause of the fire has not yet been announced.
The Wards said the fire is under investigation by authorities in LaPorte County.