Southern California wildfires that swept through the San Luis Rey Downs training site on Thursday are being described as a “war zone” as an estimated 25 horses died in the fire or due to fire-related injuries, although the number of dead is expected to climb.
According to the Los Angeles Times, a wind-driven fire, one of the many that are wreaking havoc on Southern California, engulfed eight barns at the 500-stall facility for thoroughbreds and quickly spread stable to stable with horses trapped inside.
Horseman tried to free the horses from the barns with the intent to get them to the training track, which is out of harm’s way, but the fast-moving fire overwhelmed many horses.
“It was dark, everything was hot and she wouldn’t come out,” horse trainer Cliff Sise told KFMB-TV about trying to save a filly. “I opened the pen and tried to get behind her and get her out, and she wouldn’t get out. She burned to death that quick.”
Sise’s horrific and heartbreaking account was one of the many from the San Luis Rey Downs training site, located in Bonsall, California north of San Diego.
Trainer Doug O’Neill had 46 horses at the training facility and says all but 10 are accounted for.
“It’s like a horrible war scene,” O’Neill told the Times. “It’s beyond words of the devastation that the fire wreaked.”
The San Luis Rey Downs fire is one of the many wildfires in Los Angeles, Ventura, and San Diego counties that have burned more than 130,000 acres and are far from being under control.
The surviving horses were taken to Del Mar, and the Los Alamitos Race Course in nearby Cypress canceled its Friday afternoon racing program out of respect for the horses and people involved.
Many veterinarians, veterinary technicians and other volunteers have donated their time to take care of the stressed and injured animals, and several organizations have donated feed and other supplies.
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