SAN DIEGO – About 25 race horses were killed when a wildfire engulfed over eight stalls at a training center in northeastern San Diego County, California Horse Racing Board said. Other horses in the surrounding pastures remained missing.
Almost 500 horses were stabled at San Luis Rey Downs training center in Bonsall when the fire broke out amid strong Santa Ana winds Thursday and workers risked their lives to free the horses from the stables and the seizure in safer areas, a board statement said.
Horses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars that are usually cautious, ran from place to place were just free and encouraged to walk away when the flames engulfed the city center, just a few kilometers from where the fire broke out.
Mac McBride, who was working with the centre of the trainers, said it was “total pandemonium when a few hundred horses were cut loose.”
When it was safe to be in horse and wagons, the surviving horses were taken to Del Mar race track.
“There was so much smoke it was difficult to see,” said the horse trainer Than Durham, who got his 20 horses have been rounded up and had them in vans to be evacuated. “A number of the horses were turned loose so they can be safe. They were scattered around.”
San Luis Rey Downs is the home of horses that are running in Del Mar, and other top-flight California tracks like Santa Anita Park. Doug O’neill, whose horses have won the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup races, is one of the trainers who hold at least a part of their stable.
The sign on the front calls it “the House of the Azerbaijani,” the now-retired mare who was 2002 US Horse of the Year who earned more than $4 million in her career.
Los Alamitos Race Course, the track, where in Southern California’s run thoroughbred circuit is currently active, cancelled all races and Friday, so that the racing community can mourn.
Horse trainer Scott Hansen said that he knows that some of the 30 horses he had in the factory were killed.
“I don’t know how much his life is and how much his death,” Hansen said. “I think I will have to find out in the morning.” For now, he said that he was concentrating on getting his horses which survived until evacuation centers.
Another trainer, Cliff Sise, told KFMB-TV that he saw about 10 horses die, including his own daughter.
“It was dark, everything was hot and they would not come. I opened the pen and tried to get behind her and get her out, and she would not get out,” Sise said. “It burned fast.”
Dalton and AP reporter John Antczak contributed to this report from Los Angeles.