A fire in Indiana killed 2,000 pigeons after the building where they were being housed caught fire late Saturday, race officials say.
The fire consumed a barn at the Hoosier Classic Million Dollar One Loft Race in Wanatah, WSBT reported.
Each of the more than 2,000 pigeons inside the barn was incinerated along with the loft owners’ four dogs, the Times of Northwest Indiana reported.
Owners Jim and Kelly Ward say they’re devastated.
“We are heartbroken at this time and are trying to process the events from overnight,” the couple wrote on their website. “Our family has spent hundreds of hours working in this loft and it has become our life. We are thankful that are children are safe, but we are devastated at the loss of something that we lived to do on a daily basis. We are at a loss for words at this time.”
The Hoosier Classic Million Dollar One Loft Race features a 350 mile pigeon race from Matthews, Missouri, the race website says. The race, which awards a $500,000 prize to the first place winner, was scheduled for Monday morning before tragedy struck.
Pigeon racing figures have expressed their shock over the fire with PigeonUniverse administrator Adam Dunn calling it the “greatest modern-day pigeon disaster,” according to the Times.
Pigeon breeder Fred Smeltzer echoed Dunn’s sentiments.
“This is a bad time for our pigeon sport,” Smeltzer said, according to the Times. “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.”
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, according to WSBT, but the Wards don’t move forward without hope.
“We are resilient, we are workers, we love this sport and we love what we do,” the couple wrote.
Pigeon racing is considered highly controversial, with organizations like PETA and Palomacy decrying the racing industry for what has been called “massive casualties of birds during races and training.” Supporters, however, argue that pigeons “enjoy exercise and will happily fly long distances.” according to the RPRA.