Four Prince George's County firefighters were injured last night in a three-alarm fire that heavily damaged the grandstand of the Rosecroft Raceway in Oxon Hill.
A parking lot attendant saw the fire and reported it at 6:02 p.m. -- just an hour before harness racing fans were scheduled to file into the grandstand for the night's races, said Peter Piringer, a fire department spokesman.
Post time was 7:30 p.m. Horses were starting to make their way from the paddock to the track when the fire broke out, Mr. Piringer said.
Using 50 engines, tankers and other pieces of equipment, between 150 and 175 firefighters battled the blaze for about 1 1/2 hours before it was declared under control. The blaze was raging in the rear of the grandstand when firefighters arrived, and destroyed storage areas, offices and a kitchen.
"The whole back area was fully engulfed in flames," Mr. Piringer said.
Fire investigators are still working to determine how the fire started, he said.
Three of the firefighters who were injured were transported to the Southeast Medical Clinic in Washington, where they were treated for heat exhaustion and minor burns. Another firefighter was treated at the scene.
No one else was injured.
Mr. Piringer estimated damage at more than $1 million, but Ted Snell, general manager of Rosecroft, said it will cost much more than that to rebuild the grandstand.
The front of the grandstand, with seats for 3,500 fans, was not damaged, but could not be used because of the destruction underneath.
"My guess is that we'll have to rebuild the whole grandstand, and it will probably cost between $4 million and $6 million, or even more," Mr. Snell said.
Last night's races were canceled. Despite minor damage to pari-mutuel betting equipment, racing is expected to resume Wednesday, the next scheduled night at the harness track, Mr. Snell said.
Fans will be seated in the clubhouse, which sits adjacent to the grandstand, he said.
Rosecroft is one of two harness racing tracks in Maryland, the other being Delmarva Downs near Ocean City. Both were purchased earlier this month by California businessman Fred Weisman, who has pledged to revive harness racing in Maryland by extensively renovating Rosecroft Raceway.