The leader of the stunt display team who was injured as the Echo Arena car park burned has praised the response of organisers and emergency services to the incident.
Sunday evening’s (31 December) Liverpool International Horse Show performance had to be called off as a result of the blaze, in which more than 1,000 cars were destroyed.
Zana Cousins, of the Stampede Stunt Company which put on the Luminoso act every day of the show, said she and her team were still in costume from the afternoon performance when news of the fire, which is thought to have started in one vehicle, reached them.
“It escalated so quickly,” she told H&H. “It came through on the radio that there was a fire, and it was one car at first; I couldn’t believe how quickly it got out of control.”
Zana, who runs the Centre of Horseback Combat in Hemel Hempstead with her husband Karl, said the six horses who took part in the act – which involved pyrotechnics – were stabled on the dockside rather than on lower floors of the car park, unlike the showjumpers.
“We thought that would be ok,” she said.
“Some of the showjumping horses started going in those stables. We had international horses mixing with the ponies from the Shetland Pony Grand National, who were doubling up to make room, as it was raining outside too.
“But very quickly, the smoke started billowing in. We opened the back windows to let it out, then they said: ‘Get the horses out’. All the horses could hear was explosion after explosion. I’ve never seen a fire like it.”
The members of Zana’s team had been put up in a hotel very close to the arena, which was cordoned off.
“We got the horses on the lorry and were told to go,” she said.
“But I didn’t have anything; we were still in costume, I didn’t have my phone or wallet; I didn’t have hay or water for the horses; I didn’t even have my wallet, for money to buy diesel.”
Zana and one of the other riders went back to the hotel to collect their belongings, but by the time they got there and tried to return, the area was cordoned off.
“It was dark and raining and people were panicking and screaming, ‘Get back, get back!’” she said.
“It had all been closed off behind us and we couldn’t get out. We saw the big fence and climbed it but there were spikes on the top and my hand got impaled as I jumped down.”
Zana suffered damage to tendons and nerves and is due to be operated on tomorrow (3 January) but will be out of action for months.
“I had my New Year’s Eve in hospital,” she said, adding that members of the stunt team had to make numerous return journeys to Liverpool to try to recover equipment worth thousands of pounds.
Videos by Zana Cousins
“But everyone dealt with it so well,” she added. “The police and fire service were great and [show president] Nina Barbour has been brilliant. I thoroughly feel for her because it was a fantastic event and it’s not her fault, this was the car park.
“And everyone was helping everyone; people offering stables, Aintree EC taking horses in, everyone asking what was needed, it was wonderful to see.”
‘Nothing short of remarkable’
In a statement on the show’s Facebook page, Ms Barbour said yesterday: “I would like to express my immense thanks and gratitude to the emergency services, the Echo Arena staff, riders, grooms and support staff, the general public and the city of Liverpool.
“The understanding of everybody who was preparing to celebrate New Year’s Eve and was left in Liverpool with no transport was nothing short of remarkable, and the offers of help and support from people – they ran into the hundreds – for anyone who needed assistance will never be forgotten.
“All people and horses are safe and secure, and I thank spectators, riders and support teams for their understanding and co-operation.
“I am very proud of our own teams who pulled together in the most demanding of circumstances, and managed to quickly and calmly evacuate all horses from the venue in a safe and controlled manner.
“We are not going to let go of what we achieved in the first five sessions of the show, and we will be back to do it again next December.”
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For details on ticket refunds and insurance claims, and to read Ms Barbour’s statement in full, visit the show’s Facebook page.
How the equestrian community pulled together: see next week’s H&H magazine, out 11 January.