By Denise Koch

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The Lilac Fire in San Diego last week killed at least 46 elite horses and injured three workers at a training facility owned by The Stronach Group.

The group also owns Laurel Park and Pimlico.

Leaders in the racing industry met today in Laurel to discuss barn evacuation which, when you have close to 1,000 horses in a facility, becomes close to impossible.

Panic ensued at the San Luis Rey Training Center after fire, fueled by intense winds, spread to eight barns.

“It hit the palm trees first so it was high in the trees and then they started falling on the barns,” says Linda Gaudet, who has been in the business for 45 years. “Yeah, I mean, it’s just devastating.”

Gaudet, and everyone WJZ talked to, says the fire was the worst disaster ever to hit the racing world.

“We’ve always been taught as horsemen that when you lead a horse of out a burning barn you have to put them somewhere because they will run back,” Gaudet says. “That’s their home, that’s all they know.”

“They’re looking for safety and safety is their stall,” says Sal Sinatra.

In San Diego, hundreds of animals made it out, but some then died or were injured by smoke inhalation.

Nearly 1,000 horses are stabled at Laurel Park.

“We feel good in this barn,” Gaudet says. “It’s got cameras and it’s got the sprinkler system and, you know, I think it’s pretty well equipped.”

Still, the Lilac Fire still has everyone talking evacuation plans. Not just to save animals, but people, too. More than 250 people live at Laurel Park full time.

In San Diego, the workers quarters are gone.

“All of these grooms have lost their homes and all of their belongings,” says Sinatra. “A lot of them lost their jobs because if they lost their horses there’s no horses to take care of.”

The devastation caused by the Lilac Fire has hit people in the racing industry across the country. Grooms, trainers, owners. Everyone is reacting.

More than $500,000 has been raised for a community where animals come first.

“These horses rely on you and usually the people are the last ones to leave to make sure these horses are taken care of,” says assistant trainer Steve Borunda.

An additional 29 horses died in the California Creek Fire in the L.A. area and countless other pets and wild animals have also perished.

There are a number of funds that have been set up to help those in the industry impacted by the Lilac Fire. CLICK HERE for a GoFundMe page for the San Luis Rey training center and CLICK HERE to donate to the Thoroughbred Charities of America.

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Comments (2)
  1. I am a primary instructor in TECHNICAL LARGE ANIMAL EMERGENCY RESCUE and a special expert in barn fire prevention and attempted rescue efforts…. would be willing to talk to your personnel about NFPA 150 guidelines and other aspects of barn fires. I have spoken at AAEP several times about this – and there are numerous efforts that can be made to minimize the effect of situations like this.
    Dr. Rebecca Gimenez

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