At least 46 racehorses at a training center in San Diego County were killed by flames or smoke inhalation in a particularly heartbreaking result of the fires raging through Southern California. A trainer suffered serious injuries trying to save six of the animals.
Nearly 500 horses were being stabled at the San Luis Rey Downs Training Center in Bonsall in northern San Diego County on Thursday when the Lilac fire suddenly bore down on the facility. Most horses were released to flee the rapidly approaching blaze. A number of panicked horses refused to leave the area, while others fled then circled back to die. Others scattered and were lost to fend for themselves.
“We believe a small number of horses escaped from a trampled-down fence to the hills,” California Horse Racing Board spokesman Mike Marten told San Diego CBS TV News-8. “Their status is unknown.” One 2-year-old racehorse, Conquest Typhoon, was located and is being treated for burns and smoke inhalation.
Horse trainer Martine Bellocq suffered second-and third-degree burns on more than half her body as she tried to rescue six horses, Alan Balch, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, told the Los Angeles Times. She was airlifted to the UC-San Diego Medical Center and placed in a medically induced coma, the newspaper reported.
Trainer Kim Marrs described the frightening speed of the fire, telling the Sacramento Bee that she suddenly smelled smoke and “within two minutes” saw the fire “come up over the ridge.” When efforts to protect the center failed, trainers turned their energies to freeing the horses.
Trainer Cliff Sise suffered burns trying to get a 2-year-old filly named Scat Home Lady out of her stable. She refused to move and burned to death.
“She was one of my favorites,” Sise told the Bee.
The center serves racetracks at Del Mar, Santa Anita Park and Los Alamitos.
“This is a tragic blow to the California Thoroughbred racing industry and of great sorrow to everyone,” Jack Liebau, vice president of the Los Alamitos Racing Association, said in a statement. “We express our sympathy to the owners, trainers, and caretakers of the horses victimized by this tragic event.”
The latest deaths tell only a part of the tragic story of horse fatalities throughout the region in a searing series of wildfires. The big animals are difficult to quickly move from stalls or paddocks and pastures to transport to safety ahead of fast-moving and changing infernos.
Another 29 horses perished farther north outside of Los Angeles in the Creek fire at a Sylmar ranch on Tuesday. A number of survivors suffered serious burns and lung damage.
Stable owner Virginia Padilla managed to save her horse, Ruben, but he suffered burns over 65 percent of his body. “It’s awful. There’s no words to explain it,” she told CNN affiliate KCAL.
There were 60 horses on the property. By the time animal control officers arrived on the scene to help, they “could see and hear horses in distress” but it was too late to save many of the 60 horses on the property, the LA Times reported.
Several individual horses and ponies on home property lots have also perished throughout the fire region.
Other horse and stable owners have been pitching in to help animals displaced by the fire. The Del Mar Fairgrounds site is currently being used to house some 800 horses, including close to 400 displaced by the fire from the track training center.