KANIVA resident Erin Witmitz says she was enjoying a day at the races when unbeknownst to her a fire was gutting the car park at Great Western Racecourse.
Ms Witmitz's mother car was one of the 18 incinerated in the blaze, which began at the rear parking area of the race track on Sunday, January 23.
"We were just sitting down and having some lunch facing the track. Someone came up and said 'it looks like there is something on fire there'," she said.
"Someone said a car was on fire and we just hoped it wasn't our car. We didn't really think that much of it."
The fire, which was still under investigation by police, started at the beginning of the second race of the day.
The Great Western Cup was subsequently cut short due to safety concerns - the town's only annual racing meet.
Ms Witmitz said despite the black smoke growing larger, most attendees were not panicked by the fire.
"No one was panicking or anything like that. Everyone was just watching.
"They did an announcement over the loudspeaker that there was a car on fire, don't go to the car park, that sort of thing.
"After a while, we heard it had spread to a couple of cars. You could hear the bangs - as the cars went up, but there was no other sound really. Just a huge black cloud of smoke."
Three hours after the fire began, Ms Witmitz said police began shepherding people to their cars one-by-one.
Unfortunately for her, the car she arrived in did not see the other side of the fire.
"I just want to commend the club and how they handled it. I know it is something nobody would ever expect to have to do," she said.
"They were instantly giving out water to people after the end of the meet. They were constantly in contact with people.
"I feel like they were under a lot of pressure to work out how to handle it, and they handled it the best they could."
The fire was under control by 2.30pm and declared safe at 5pm. In the end, 80 firefighters attended the scene between 20 trucks from various CFA locations.
District 16 assistant chief fire officer Bernie Fradd said Fire Rescue Victoria also provided breathing apparatus to the firefighters from their offices in Ballarat.
"We had vehicles from as far away as Ararat, Beaufort and Stawell, including rehabilitation units from Glenorchy, Navarre and Halls Gap," he said.
"There was also another small spot fire a couple of hundred metres from the fire."
The cup was Great Western Racing Club's sole feature event for the year, with a top prize of $50,000.
Beautox for Ciaron Maher and David Eustace took out the opening race as the $1.65 favourite.
In a statement, Great Western Racing Club said it would not comment on the matter until the police investigation was finalised.
The club has confirmed it will not try to reschedule the event for a later date in 2022, following a meeting with Racing Victoria.
A crime scene has since been established at the site of the fire pending the attendance of an arson chemist.
A police spokesperson said the fire was not believed to be suspicious.
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