DEL MAR, Calif. — The number of equine fatalities continues to grow from original estimates of 25, and the needs of human survivors for the simple everyday things of life grow even larger as a result of the fires that devastated San Diego County, California's horse industry.
Three major funds have been established to assist the surviving horses, their owners and the backstretch personnel who care for them. Del Mar Turf Club, the home of the 2017 Breeders' Cup, has established a web site that lists all of the supplies that are needed for the care of the 250-plus horses that are temporarily housed at the seaside track. Potential donors can view the list at www.dmtc.com/fire-evacuation.
Del Mar Turf Club, Santa Anita Park and the Stronach Group, the owners of Santa Anita and the San Luis Rey Downs Training Facility — the epicenter of the “Lilac Fires” — have jointly started a Go Fund Me account to aid those who have suffered through the flames and smoke. Contributions can be sent to: www.gofundme.com/throughbredcare. This fund is being administered by Alexis Garski, a member of Santa Anita Park's public relations and marketing staff.
The American Association of Equine Practitioners is accepting donations at: https://foundation.aaep.org/disasterrelief.
The California Horsemen's Foundation, Inc. is accepting donations at: www.cthfcares.org. During the height of the fires on Dec. 7, many horses at San Luis Rey Downs were saved from death by fire or asphyxiation when the available humans could do nothing more than open stall doors and let the animals run loose, lest they remained trapped in burning barns. Many of those survivors sustained burns and other injuries as they ran wild trying to escape the fires. As of this writing, most of those have been rounded up and temporarily housed at neighboring facilities and at Del Mar and Los Alamitos race tracks.
The herculean job of identifying all of the horses that were running loose and then returning them to their owners has been undertaken by the racing office at Santa Anita Park. Officials there say detailed photos showing distinctive markings and/or lip tattoos will expedite the identification.
Information coming from the California Horse Racing Board and other sources say trainer Martine Bellocq was hospitalized with second and third degree burns over 50% of her body and was in a medically induced coma. Martine's husband, Pierre Bellocq, Jr., was reported to have been treated for smoke inhalation. Both were injured while they were trying to save the horses in their six-horse string, three of which perished.
Trainer Cliff Sise, who had several horses stabled at San Luis Rey Downs seemed to speak for many trainers when he told a caller from Thoroughbred Daily News, “The grooms, the hotwalkers, they lost everything in their rooms; so they need the most help. I lost everything (equipment). All I have left is three shanks.”
The fires ravaged the Stronach-owned San Luis Rey Downs, a training facility with a one-mile track located in the community of Bonsall in northern San Diego County. According to Southern California news reports, the Lilac Fires struck in late morning of Dec. 7 about three miles north of the training center. At that time, precautionary evacuations were started at San Luis Rey. By 2 p.m. (PST), the center's public address system was advising horsemen to step the pace of the evacuations as hot embers from the fires were blowing into the facility and igniting the roofs of the shed rows and the combustible hay and straw below.
The Los Angeles Times described some of the chaos: “The wind picked up suddenly, causing embers to surge westward onto barn roofs, engulfing the whole area in thick smoke, whinnies escaping through the gloom interspersed with frantic calls of “Behind you,” from trainers trying to keep their friends and colleagues from ending up underneath unpredictable hooves. “Now and then, small herds of horses would gallop from the smoke-shrouded barn bloc, sometimes bolting up to the main track and comparative safety, sometimes opting to keep circling their fiery homes, a maelstrom of confused and panicked horseflesh with no clear compass.”
From the descriptions out of Del Mar and San Luis Rey, aid is needed now and will still be needed as the headlines and television news reports of the tragedy are waning.
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