A Red Lodge woman said she was ‘terrified’ as she led ponies and horses to safety when fire engulfed a multi-storey car park in Liverpool on New Year’s Eve.
Sixty-nine-year-old Vera Akehurst, was at Liverpool’s International Horse Show at the city’s Echo Arena over the New Year weekend. Her ten Shetland ponies were stabled in the basement of the King’s Dock car park with other horses taking part.
Vera, who has co-ordinated the Shetland Pony Grand National for the last four years, rushed back to the basement after a friend called and told her that there was a fire in the car park and she needed to get back to the ponies.
“At the beginning we thought it was a one-off, but it took hold so quickly,” said Vera. And in the arena, the audience at the show had no idea of the drama that was unfolding, with show jumping continuing inside, said Vera.
“As the cars were exploding it sounded a bit like a war zone and the horses were getting a bit spooked.”
And when the basement started to fill with smoke, Vera said she was ‘terrified’ and realised that the ponies needed to be led to safety. Parents and the young riders who take part in the Shetland races, including Lucy Aspell, daughter of Grand National-winning jockey, Leighton Aspell, helped to lead the 10 ponies away from the inferno.
“All the kids and Shetlands got out and we took them up alongside the Mersey,” she said.
Vera then went back to the car park and helped other grooms lead horses out of the smoke-filled basement as the fire above rapidly spread from car-to-car.
“The grooms were excellent,” said Vera. “As they led out the horses they stayed very calm.”
Despite getting all the animals out unhurt, Vera was forced to leave some of her equipment in the basement as the 1,600 car park was deemed to be in an unsafe condition.
“It wasn’t how we expected to spend New Year’s Eve,” she said.